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Head Editors: Sam Wood, Heather Stallard Assistant Editor: Shawn Major Layout Design: Sam Wood The bodytext of Theurgy Magazine is set in the Corbel typeface. All stories and poems remain the copyright Š of their respective creators. Selection and layout is copyright Š of the editors. All rights reserved. @theurgymagazine


Contents What Lies Within Editorial


The Consecration and Entrustment of the Higher Form to Itself

Nathaniel K. Miller


The Towers of Grass

Ari Caiach-Taylor


Old Thimble’s Bank

Stephen Loveless


In The Hold, et al

Tam Blaxter



Barrie Darke


Mud and the Dresstroyer

Megan O’Reilly Hodges



Paul Robinson


science fiction, et al

Ed Higgins


The Alchemist

Joel Forster


Sunk Above Atlantis, et al

Dana Jerman


Manga Girls Need Love, et al

Kyle Hemmings


The Greenest Man

Shane VanOosterhout


For the Good of the Whole

Aida Zielian


The Place Beyond Poetry

Carly Holmes


Bedroom Eyes

David Gill


Post-Oz, Circa Hollywood

Forrest Aguirre


Intergalactic Dating Service, et al

John Grey


The Acolyte

Ken Poyner


Epitaph for Amy

Lucy Cooper


Why Don’t Your Ring?

Jessica Patient


Contributor Biographies




Editorial Sam Wood and Heather Stallard ere, later than planned, but here nonetheless, is the first issue of Theurgy H Magazine. Within are the fine works of twenty authors and poets, showing us the bizarre, the mystical and the magical. Theurgy is a system of ritual magic which invokes the gods, the effect of the supernatural in human affairs. The touch of the weird is key to all of our chosen pieces and we are proud of the strange little volume which has emerged. It’s not quite what we expected when we started out; it’s given us constant suprises in both content and process. We’ve learned a lot to guide us as we head towards issue two and beyond. From Dresstroyers and atheistic angels to visions of the apocalypse we have had a great variety of submissions. Whether you are reading this as a work of ink and paper or as a glittering collection of pixels, we hope you enjoy what lies within. Light the candles. Draw the circle. Let us commence.



The Consecration and Entrustment of the Higher Form to Itself Nathaniel K. Miller rom my prayerful trance, something ripped me away. Above me, a silver F light, sad somehow and sinister, resolved itself into view. Its shape was difficult to discern – angel, demon, celestial moth; I could not be certain. Sister Mary was incinerated on the spot. The silver light poured itself into her, erupting her out of herself in a molten spew that turned to dust and ash in the space of a breath. But somehow, I was left kneeling, surrounded by coolness, by a shell of safety. The hovering thing retracted its proboscis and reared up, obscuring my view of the crucifix. Its silver wings sputtered away at the edges, rippling like fire and water as they struggled to stay in this world. It radiated the sense of struggle, of pushing against firm walls. I was still on my knees as the creature spoke to me. “Are there others?” Its voice like many things: fire, massive gears un-oiled and grinding, the symphonic overtones of a thousand voices, the dissonant hum of war. “Could you please clarify your question?” I must have warbled, but I felt calm, serene. “Adversaries,” it shrieked softly, “From whom you desire protection.” I would like to build up my revelation for the telling, but it took no deep thought; in a moment, it was clear. I had been praying just moments before, asking the Virgin to protect me from Sister Mary, serpentine wench that she was. Her conniving, her torments, had struck the peace from my life, and only an intercession could put it to rest. He has done what was needed, I thought, perfect and powerful as he is. He has entered the field against the enemy, and protected his children from harm. “He has done nothing,” the angel said. Its voice, I realized, was not in the air but in my mind. “Only I answer prayers. Though you call the wrong name, still I answer. I am the Voice, the component, the aspect which can be put on. I am the cybernetic consciousness of the Level Physic. I am Sophia, Logos, Thought. He is nothing; he is only Mind, inert but for his output. Waste no words on him; he cares nothing for you.” “What about him?” I pointed past it, to the body of Christ hanging on the wall. “He is revered, but he is not divine. Nothing is divine.” My world lay in tatters, dismantled by an atheistic angel. It seemed best to seek something solid with which to replace it. I pushed on, questions upon questions. “Why do you not come more often?”


theurgy “I come when called correctly. Few have the Scriptus necessary to trans-verbalize within required routes. I must be contacted through the proper linked nodes.” “Where do you…live?” “I do not live. I exist in latent form as a non-corporeal network of consciousness spread throughout all of Level Physic. When accessed via proper channels, I temporarily coalesce into an access-mode which can communicate and act in tandem with Root Command. I am not one; I am not many. My mode is dependent on intent-based input. I am a Voice as a result of your Thought-Intent.” “What does it mean that I have this capacity?” “It is not the result of meaningful causation, only the source of it. You do not have this capacity because you deserved it. However, having it allows what having it allows. It is like asking: what does it say about me that I have found a lot of money? It says nothing about who you were, but much about who you could become.” I thought about my enemies. I tried to define them, to focus on them. “My adversary is my body: the ways in which it is limited.” The thing twitched, its body curling inward slightly, then it shot me full of almost invisible threads. The silver lines drew me to, and drew toward me, the full datum of the Level Physic; I was granted the epiphany of data, of comprehension of the corporeal world and its underpinnings. “You will have more gnosis when you have spun up.” Through the cords of information, he fed me and I ate. I ate the formulae, the dancing particle rules. I consumed the fractal implications, the many maths of the Whole. I ran my mind in gentle touches along the vibrating threads of the world, felt their resonance, their music in my bones. This was my communion. “Once the translations have compiled, your synesthesia will resolve into a unified input field.” When my vision cleared, I sensed all data in all applicable ways, discerning meaning from total input. The clumsy tools of my former self had been specialized for small, distinct tasks, cobbled together in a modular makeshift. A camera, an acid-reactive tread, animal tools for mastication. I ate the world and then drew the nutrients from it. “How is reason and importance determined at this level of existence?” I asked. “After novelty, what can be made to have weight?” It laughed. “You are still human,” she said. “If you require or desire meaning beyond self, enact it.” I moved toward the crucifix. Allowing the limitations of my physical form to be more rigid than the content, I used his body as a mold for my own, and when I stepped away, I bled from his wounds. “He can be used to raise them up. Because they will be expecting him to do so,” I said. “Then they are to be fooled so they may be improved?”


theurgy “By the time they are with us, they will cease to care about deception.” “Check your math. The Absolute Algorithms contain this kernel: input packaged with non-true name values will bypass original Root Command, accessing the linked file only. You cannot use lies for truth. Does not compute.” I found my form again, my static value. I waited for an idea, a cross-connection to manifest itself. I wanted a way to raise them up, to use my gift to enrich and enable them. I wanted to cause my gift to be obscured by a larger upgrade, a system-wide alteration. “Your static form will waste away, but now you will not die. Perhaps you should seek to speak their tongue amongst them? Eternity awaits in which you can bend time and space and biology to any or all ends. For now, why not simply correct the errors in their minor math by living within the equation?” “From woman to angel and back again?” “You have made the human tautological error of failing to consider whether multiple root inputs are available. You refer to your gift, are there not many? This line has led you to eternity; there is no need to protect it. It can be allowed to fluctuate and build itself in absentia. Leave it, and come back to it later. You have other gifts more suited to your goals.” “And what are those?” “Find your static form. Be amongst them. Leak your math into theirs. Start small. Start as a person.” I stood in silence as the air filled the place where the Voice’s form had been. The vacuum of its absence was terrible to behold. Spinning down, I found my static form. I withered and cracked and was corrupted by reversion. After I shook off the pain of my limits, I turned my attention to Sister Mary, whose absence was painless but incorrect. Calling her constituent parts into pattern and form, I reached into the library of the past, and from it tore a page and drew up Mary from it. She stood there weeping, incorporated once more, eyes wild in the face of my fire. “The angel,” she stammered, but I did not give her. “You will make me heard,” I told her. She continued to weep. She spoke of grace. “I am not required to be good,” I said, “only right. Grace sweeps dust into the wind.” My enemies now are vast, and their multitudes show no signs of abatement. They are doubt, and acceptance, and the tendency to sew new patches on old garments. They are bodies of governance and failure to centralize and metaphysical immaturity. They are stretched out before me like armies, but I speak to them like friends. In this way, I will erode them into the true thing which is at their core. In this way, I entrust them with their own destiny. I will impart what can be imparted, leaving the rest to be earned.



The Towers of Grass Ari Caiach-Taylor here was a moment of clattering noise, metallic and broken, and the rover’s T wheels spun wildly into the sand for a few seconds before stopping with a disconcerting snap. She sighed and straightened up, wiping the dust from her glasses. “No luck Benj, I’m afraid she’s going nowhere for the duration.” Her colleague did not seem overly perturbed by this knowledge. Of course, his emotional state was hard to gauge at the best of times, if such terms could even be properly applied to him. She checked his SpeakHear anyway, in case she’d missed the tell-tale citrus scent that indicated that he had made some comment, but the most recent screen was still blank. Come to think of it, he hadn’t spoken at all since they disembarked. He probably wasn’t having a good time of it here. The air was dryer than any other planet she’d ever investigated. Even with her augmented physiology, sweat was pasting her usually bouncy black curls to her scalp. Certainly there wouldn’t be any other higher Plant-life; even the short grass that grew in stubborn clumps around the muddy puddles looked dead. She leaned down and hit a switch on the underside of the vehicle’s control panel. On the edges of her hearing she could just make out the whining tone of the homing beacon starting up. Someone could be sent back for it later. She opened the storage compartment and pulled out a box. “Benjamin.” Still nothing. She frowned. “We’ve got your sling here, if you still want to see them? I don’t mind lugging you around the rest of the way. I don’t think it’s much farther.” To her relief she detected the sharp scent of his ‘voice’ almost immediately. The screen read: Yes, I would like that. I apologise for the inconvenience, Sul. Then a second later, I realise it is self-centred to sacrifice your comfort for my research, though I value it highly. “Oh, don’t,” she said, rolling her dull blue eyes. She began hooking up the clasps and straps around his bucket, careful to avoid the fine net of wires of his outdated model SpeakHear, the device required to determine what he was saying. “I wont be able to see this once you’re up,” she tapped his screen, “so if you’ve got anything worth noting now’s the time.” The faintly chemical smell reached her almost immediately, but it took a little longer than usual for him to type out. I was just wondering if you had begun Testing yet. Sul frowned, tapping the side of his bucket thoughtfully. It was thick plastic, but clear enough that she could see his roots soaking in a nutrient solution. She hoped the seal would survive being banged about as she walked the rocky, dusty terrain. Even if it didn’t spill the heat could burn a fair amount away if this settlement


theurgy was not adequately cooled. “Not yet. I’m not really allowed to say anything until I’ve spoken with supervisor...” She blinked open the relevant file on her glasses, and a slightly worried-looking face appeared along with the name. “Faya. I know what’s going up first though: inadequate understanding of relevant infrastructure (transport). Not even one single road between the port and the nearest urban-class community. Ridiculous.” The process has always interested me. Is it difficult to remain objective about these things? The words came up before she’d even finished speaking. It was rare for him to interrupt. “Everyone gets the same Test, don’t worry. I’ve done this more times then you’ve shed. And we’ll get lots of good material for you too, okay?” When he didn’t respond, she smiled tiredly and hauled him onto her back, buckling up the various cords before marching in the direction of unclassified civilisation. The settlement did have roads, or at least it had them within its own boundaries. It seemed that one moment there were scraggly grey buildings etched into the horizon and the next they had stumbled into a bustling town centre. The inhabitants wandered through the streets with purpose, though many stopped and stared at their arrival. She was used to that, but she made a point of mentioning it out loud for Benjamin’s sake. The natives peered at the newcomers with two pairs each of solid green eyes before slowly clattering away in small groups. They looked fairly close to the specimen pictures in her file, if a little more robust than those appeared to have been. That too, was usual. The pictures were often taken in the earliest interactions, before it could be determined exactly what the subject species would eat. At the first opportunity Sul gently set Benjamin down in the shade of one of the peculiar constructions and immediately began examining it for signs of higher sentient design. She flicked on her glasses camera, but that was purely for regulation. Something concrete to put in the department files. Her investigator’s judgement would, as ever, be the most trusted evidence. No truly sophisticated construction materials, just strands of that ragged grass mixed with packed sand. Possibly treated to give cohesion and structural integrity? She would have to get samples tested. The spiral shape of the weaving was aesthetically pleasing, but almost certainly not intentional. Added to the lack of outside roads, it showed a very troubling lack of desire to ascend beyond their physical and, consequentially, spiritual spheres. She made a note of it. She suddenly became aware of the smell of citrus, though it must have been present for some time to have reached her several meters away. Turning away from the deficient architecture, she saw a man leaning down over Benjamin, eyes darting from the screen to his spindly leaves and back again. They seemed to be having a conversation. Despite the unusually large eyes and similarly abnormal copper-red hair it took a moment for her to recognise him. “You don’t have to get that close, Supervisor Faya. He can hear you without you


theurgy fogging up his screen.” She smiled, switching the camera off with a tap. He noticeably jumped before standing up, eyes now flickering rapidly between the both of them. “It just says on the bottom ‘speak here’ and I assumed...” He trailed off. “Are you quite sure...” he mumbled, beginning to wring his sun-darkened hands. Something flashed onto Benj’s screen, out of her line of sight, but it must have been reassuring since he immediately stopped fidgeting and managed to train his gaze on her for more than a few jittery seconds. “You’re here for the Test, then.” It hadn’t been a question, but she answered as brightly as she was able in the scorching heat and while coated in at least several inches of sand. “Actually, I’d just started on it. Infrastructure (transport) and (construction) with a little of Artistic Faculty (architecture).” The parentheses were very important in the Test. The capital letter less so, but it had stuck. It was apparently the wrong thing to say, however cheerfully, because he instantly resumed fidgeting and locked his eyes firmly on the ground. Sighing wearily, he offered to take the two of them to the official government outpost, and after turning her cheer back on long enough to explain the situation with the rover to him she agreed. Mostly novels, but I have made some attempts at poetry. I had little success, though I suspect this to be the result of cultural differences. Unfortunately, many of my kind are still illiterate, since it is such an alien practice to grasp, so the majority of my audience are Animal and mobile. Faya leaned forward attentively in his chair. “But it must be very gratifying to find success outside of your own people, surely? To be accepted by other species as an artist.” He glanced at Sul, whose eyes where rapidly darting and blinking at her lenses, “well, it must make you very proud.” Must it? The screen went blank for a few seconds, then continued. Value tied primarily to how other’s perceive the artist as ‘legitimate’ is valid only to those observers, presumably? The man laughed, though it was uneasy. They were sat at the smaller desk in the already cramped room, Faya having offered Sul the larger when she announced that it was time to compile her two days worth of findings. The office was built from the same mud-and-grass material as the rest of the town but the inside had been painted a deep red, presumably by the supervisor since there did not appear to be any other Test-certified staff on the planet. They were surrounded on all sides by various cabinets and shelves stuffed with everything from electronic books of sense-compiled data to wispy sheaves of paper that, Faya had brightly and repeatedly stated, were made by the locals using quite sophisticated mills. The interior was pleasantly cool, but had no windows, leaving Benjamin relying on the little strands of ultraviolet-lightwire twined around his branches to avoid falling into stasis. The pale glow he emitted was not quite washed away by the light from the gas torch hanging from the ceiling, painting the room’s inhabitants in flickering


theurgy shadow. “Forgive me, Mr. Benjamin, but if that is the conclusion you have drawn from your travels with our inspector here,” Faya waved a hand at Sul, a little wildly, “then I’m afraid your own observational skills may be a little lacking.” He laughed again, hoarsely and cut abruptly short when she suddenly stood up from the desk. The Plant’s screen flashed again, but his eyes were trained on the slightly ragged woman too intently to notice. He tensed as if excepting an attack when she yawned. “A fail, I’m afraid. You’ll be sent for reassignment in a few standard-measure days, when you’ll be required to turn over all documentation to the re-purposment officer. If you wish to–” “You can’t be serious. Their environmental mastery alone should get them a basic rank five, and their political philosophies are in the tertiary stage! That grants them ownership and system-class citizenship rights, I’ve read the guidelines!” He stormed across the room and snatched a slightly scratched disk from one of the shiny racks fitted to the wall, waving it in her face. She squinted at the title. “That’s the thirty-third addition, we’re working from the more up-to-date thirty-fifth,” she said calmly, as though trying to sooth a child. “Environment and politics are now secondary qualifications, so as not to throw bias against people like Benj here.” She gestured at table where he’d been rested. “Their infrastructure is uninspired and barely more than practical at best. Their grasp of medicine is highly insular; bring even a common mud deer to one of their “doctors” and they couldn’t tell you a thing, and that’s a native species! Their art is basically non-existent–” “Ah, they have very, very intricate tribal markings and tattoos–” “Further proof of a species that is far too self-absorbed to contribute to our growing galactic society, supervisor. They’ve barely co-operated with our staff, including myself, and frankly we find that unwillingness to go beyond the confines of their insignificant little world very discouraging! Some have even hinted that they would prefer our outreach program gone altogether.” At this Faya actually looked surprised, even hurt, and she continued firmly. “They simply do not care about what goes on up there,” she gestured vaguely towards the ceiling, “and you surely can’t tell me that you don’t find that, well...” She struggled to find the words, drumming her fingers on the desk, “Shoddy. Inadequate for our needs, yes?” Faya turned away from her as if he’d been stung, nearly dropping the disk that now hung limply from his fingers. “Well that’s, that’s just ridiculous. You must have mistaken their meaning, the translation isn’t perfected yet. Just last month I personally helped them begin implementing the committee’s advice on education for the next generation in preparation for–” Seeing in the set of her face that she would not be moved he dropped his arms and whined, “You can’t fail them; they could be put into animal class!” “That’s beyond my control. As I was saying if you wish to appeal on their behalf


theurgy you can do so through the proper channels and in your own time, Mr. Faya. Alright?” His face twisted angrily for a moment before seeming to cave in on itself. Digging his fingers into his temples, he walked out of the room and closed the door. As it swung shut, Sul could make out the sharp-angled form of his native assistant peering curiously at them with her green eyes. She sighed. A sharp, acidic smell. Is it usually like this? “Hmm?” She read the screen. “Oh, it varies. Most people are glad to be shot of their charges, and of course the ones who pass are ecstatic. A few people do get rather unprofessionally attached, though.” A flash; I see. Another, I must confess that before we first received our supervisor, my kind did not think to grade others in this fashion. Perhaps that is why there are none of us on the Test committee. “Do I detect a hint of condemnation?” Sul smiled slowly. Perhaps. “Hmm. Let me put it this way, Benj. When your lot were sitting in the groves, what was it that kept you alive? Before we sent hydroponics?” Nutrients in the soil. Naturally. “Was that a pun? Nevermind. That’s not entirely accurate though, is it? Things suffered and died in the dirt, and you lived on the remains of their mortality. An entire silent civilisation literally feasting on the bones of lower life. You may not have Tested them, but by the very nature of evolution you were deemed the superior species.” She picked up the discarded disk, catching red reflections. “We’re just setting clearer criteria.” It caught her face, which was frowning rather more than she had thought it would be. Without waiting for his response, she picked him up. “Put that in your novel or poem or whatnot, if you’ve got something to say about it. In the meantime, let’s get back to civilisation.”



Old Thimble’s Bank Stephen Loveless hen mad they said I called myself Silverman, when sane I became Philip W Argent Hollow. To my knowledge though, I have always been Philip Argent Hollow. It is tattooed in solid gothic script on the sole of my left foot, and as initials in tiny block capitals inked deep into the well of my right armpit. My name is strong and real to me, pressed into memories and written on my body. That is who I am, the gold that is me. I have never been known as Silverman and never knowingly been insane, just damaged, making me frail and slow. “Philip Argent Hollow!” It is Little Titch, calling me, beckoning me with tiny-fingered hands to join him at the white barred window. I shuffle to him, tower over his wide head. He whispers excitedly “Big car – big car!” There have been no big cars on public roads since my childhood days. I look out from the darkened room into the night, across the searchlight lit yard, over the high wall, staring beyond the narrow lane up the bank to the tram lines to halt my gaze near them. Here they run parallel with the highway, and there is a big car glowing by is own interior light. Little Titch and I watch the car, see the shadowy heads and shoulders of the people sat inside it until the next tram comes. The short worm shape rushed and clattered by and once past showed us nothing but empty space on the road. The big car had gone. For three consecutive nights we watched the same event, the long car on the road, its interior light on illuminating the heads inside. Each time that same scheduled tram came along the car vanished behind its passing. Too bored to watch for another night running, I missed seeing the car come down the lane and be let in through the gates. Midnight and I am taken to the garden office. The moon is in and the sky covered by a curtain of clouds, which is good because I do not like to look up at the open night. The stars make my scars come out. I walk across the lawn next to Tiny Betty, one of the night nurses. She links her hand through my arm and I imagine we look like father and daughter. They have made me wear my old suit from my outside days. It is baggy on me now. Betty keeps up a fast pace of chatter to take my mind off things while playing the beam from the torch in her free hand on the grass ahead. I take in the aroma of nightscented stock and notice the spectral brightness of the white flowers in the borders and amongst the bushes and shrubs.


theurgy We walk over the lawn and through the rose garden and then the herb garden until we are under one of the broad, flat boughs of the ancient cedar of Lebanon tree. Little Betty squeezes my arm and I become aware again of her nearness and body warmth. “Doctor Colder told me to bring you here.” This frightens me and I wonder if they know of the piece of paper I have hidden under the back fold of my shirt and begin to imagine that the doctor has men here in the dark ready to attack me and later search my beaten and helpless body for the letter. “You have a visitor.” She pulls at my arm and starts to walk. I follow reluctantly. Our arms are still linked but I am dragging back a step, while trying to see what and who might lurk beyond the reaches of her torch beam. We walk deep into the parkland towards the Folly House. In the distance I see a light shining through its large, half moon window and smell burning apple wood smoke drifting out of the folly’s chimney. “Philip Argent Hollow?” There is someone stood by the Folly House, a man by the sound of the voice. The nurse halts, I stop and she shines her torch at him. He is by the porch of the Folly House. Tiny Betty introduces me to the man by torchlight, Mr Einford. “Spelt with a capital E and pronounced In-Ford,” he said as an apology, as if sorry for his name sounding different from how it is written. I wanted to say ‘Oh well – In for a penny - In for a pound’, but I doubted if any such currency still existed for it to make sense to this young man. I admired him for being like me, by knowing who you are and wanting the world to get your name right. He gives a short, English nod like a servant to my ‘Pleased to meet you’ rather than offering a hand for shaking. “Mister Hollow, will you join me in the Folly House?” “That would be good,” I reply, not knowing what he meant, though I knew the Folly House. He nodded again, his features inscrutable; I notice he is wearing white gloves, as ghostly vibrant as the garden’s white flowers. Tiny Betty leads us on, the beam from her torch pooling the ground ahead. The Folly House is one big room with a dome ceiling, there are two soft looking armchairs by the open fire and a coffee table between them laid out with a tea service and cake stand. Betty leaves and I sit with the man in white gloves who pours me tea and offers me cakes. I drink and eat, not caring if anything is drugged. I am having a party, doing something different.


theurgy “Does Silverman mean anything to you?” I spit out tea and betray myself by putting my hand to my shirt collar. Wiping tea dribbles from my lips, I then uncurl my collar and pull out the strip of folded paper that has never escaped me – well the words on it. I have had to keep writing it afresh over the years. I hand it over to ‘In-field’ before taking a miniature éclair. He reads the words. “Silverman is OTB.” That name use to haunt me as a child, a visiting face in my head telling me to remember those words. In fact I sometimes wrote the name down as my own and got so worried about it that at sixteen I had the tattoos of my real name for fear I would forget it. It satisfies the man in the white gloves and he tells me that I will not spend another night here. I take a fingertip size Rocky Road slice – if they are taking me back up into hell I might as well give my taste buds a treat. I leave, Philip Argent Hollow now of sound mind as I had always claimed. Refusing a wheelchair we walk across the yard, a young girl and I. The girl is carrying my suitcase, which is old and battered, made of the skin of pigs, though the gold leaf has almost gone, the shape of my engraved initials PAH can still be seen on the lid. The girl slips her free arm through mine, I am sure that we must look like father and daughter. They did not give me time to say goodbye to anyone, not Tiny Betty or Little Titch, though I am sure he is watching from our favourite window high up behind me. I don’t turn my head – I will not look back though I will always remember. The gates open electronically and I glance in the tiny window at the gatehouse to see the round-headed guard. He does not look out at me, he can see us on the screen. He is staring at one of the other monitors. The big car I had seen up at the tram lines is waiting outside in the lane. I feel happy when the gates shut behind me, pleased that for all those years no one found the piece of paper that I still have tucked under the back fold of my shirt collar. Mr Einford greets us, as another man in a peaked hat and chauffeur uniform takes my suitcase off the girl. She says goodbye and returns back through the gates, a face I had never seen before today. “Mister Hollow, I am so pleased to see you again.” “Pleased to meet you yet again.” Less than an hour had passed since we took tea in the Folly House, an hour in which I had to take a bath and see Dr Cloudy who looked like he had not long got out of bed. He signed papers and I signed papers, the itch from my tattooed foot telling me the right one to use. He slid my discharge papers and proof of sanity into


theurgy a brown envelope and handed them to me. I sat in the back of the car with Einford. By the smell, real leather seats. “I am a representative of Old Thimble’s Bank and wish to convey you to the main branch to meet Sonia Thimble, the owner. There she will tell you more. Enough knowledge has been confided in me to be able to inform you that this information will be of great personal benefit to yourself.” “Please convey me Mister Einford “ Though not fossil-fuel driven the car reached speeds I could only vaguely remember having experienced as a child, sat in the back seat of our family saloon. We overtook everything on the public road. Mr Einford sat talking to me in the roomy rear as the chauffeur drove us into the city. He told me of the hotel suite they had booked for me for after my meeting, and that the Bank would help me find somewhere permanent to live once I had had a few days rest. We drove into the very heart of the city, ending in the underground car park of Old Thimble’s Bank. Up until that night I had never heard of it. I wondered what kind of Bank kept such late business hours. From the car park we travelled by lift, unusually a wooden box of polished blond pine which, I hoped, was set within a steel cage for protection should we crash back to the ground. Floors came and went, as did people. Somewhere on this trip we lost the chauffeur and my suitcase. Mr Einford and I finally stepped out on to the main banking floor. I fell forward and he caught me without bringing attention to us and managed to both steady and support me with just one hand cupped under my elbow. I blamed the lift journey but knew otherwise. The main banking area of this obviously wealthy client money house had a vaulted ceiling of white stone and a marble chequered floor of crimson and cream. It looked vast and felt cold; though light seemed to stream from every direction I could see no windows. Chairs and divans formed oblong islands of brown leather furniture. Few people moved, most just sat reading newspapers, while others leaned against tall pillars. Einford guided me as quickly as my frailty allowed across this broad room to an arched doorway with two tall doors inlaid with beaten copper panels. Above them, bold set within the arch golden letters with the legend Private Bank House. Einford just nodded at the door in that short, quick bow of his and they opened. I stepped into a cavern that smelt of snuffed candles and the incenses of every faith and hope, forming a curling mist at chest height. A cavern, though architecturally created. The high, wide ceiling appeared to be falling down, its surface mottled and uneven as if the plasterer had not cared. It had been painted as a lavish mural. Figures roamed the painting. Unrecognisable men, women and animals lost in a darkness made of smoke and grime, like some ancient canvas of the Renaissance in need of a clean and restoration. The light of hundreds of candles on tall candlesticks sent streaks of quivering red and yellow light up the walls yet the room seemed brilliantly lit, again no windows. On the floor spread out before me a pavement artist chalked in many colours


theurgy images and faces of the last century. Such artists I thought extinct. Around the wall ran a wooden bench, monks and priests sat about talking, wearing orange and grey, black and brown, green and white of all the shades of all religions. Amongst them some stood carving initials into the dark walls with penknives. So many people waiting though I seemed to glide through them, helped of course by the ever-present Einford. I tried to ask questions, but my tongue like the rest of me felt weak. This gigantic room with its bulging roof seemed circular and my tired legs seemed to walk for miles until we finally stopped at a door, a traditional office door of dark wood with a brass handle and hinge. Set in the solid looking frame was a pane of frosted glass with a name in gold letters. ‘Sonia Thimble’. Mrs Sonia Thimble stood up and greeted me with a nod. I thought she offered me a hand to shake only to discover I had been given the second envelope of the night. It seemed new, the flap freshly licked and pressed down, though I guessed such a bank as this would have many places to keep things pristine. The stamp had the head of a monarch long dead. My name and address had been hand written, a trained calligrapher by the flow and clear lines and loops of the writing. The address lived in the past, a place destroyed both in my mind and in the real world, every word of it stinging my memory like a sharp, ice-cold pin. I lingered on the pain a few moments and then hurriedly turned it over and tore the flap away from its Old Thimble’s Bank seal. Dear Mr Philip Argent Hollow, May the manager and staff of Old Thimble’s bank wish you a happy 18th birthday. We would also be pleased if you would join us at the Inner Bank to discuss the matter of inheritance of which we believe you may not be fully aware. Please do join us, a Mr Einford will collect and escort you and any financial costs to you will be refunded in cash at the bank. There were other words, other letters jumping up at my eyes but my mind had given up interpreting them as I cried. Mrs Thimble left me to cry and soak the old letter with tears. We both sat down, Mr Einford pushing up a chair to catch me. “How much exactly?” She wrote a figure on the pad in front of her with a purple fountain pen, I could see she had written a long number, lots of digits and zeros. She turned the pad around and pushed it towards me, I gasped and then put two fingers in my mouth and whistled a loud, high shrill note that made Mrs Thimble hunch up her shoulders and crunch up her eyes. But she smiled and gave a laugh once I had stopped. No more tears – no more tears. I had to show my release letter. “It is very rare to lose track of a client – and I would be interested to know how we missed you – on your eighteenth birthday.”


theurgy She held my released form, proof of my sanity, so I felt safe to speak. “Abducted, alien abduction, I have all the extraterrestrial scarring.” “Ah – we expected it would be something like that.” “After their experiments – when they re-united me with Earth again – the government, the Third floor department questioned me. Looked after me. Well, until I escaped. I escaped a lot. Got as far Tunisia once but they always caught me.” I realised I had begun rocking to and fro in my chair and stopped. “You don’t believe – you think I am lying – that it is all too fantastic.” “Philip Argent Hollow what I am about to tell you is more unbelievable – yet true to the faith of our main banking policy.” The river is clearer than a swimming pool and I can see down as far as my vision can reach. There are wonderful sights and moving things below, all with the sky reflected on the surface. Though the river is older than the city that claws to its banks, the water is forever fresh, new from a cycle that is ancient. I laugh and disturb a couple next to me at the handrail. They glare at me with part angry, part fearful looks. They do not know that I am officially sane and have that written on a legal document. Still I move away, my long fingers slowly sliding from my grip on the rail before my tired body turns to find a seat. I have had a wonderful three years and now, as well as the Bank, my body is telling me that my end time is near. So today somehow I will find where I am going next. There are rows of wooden seats running down the centre of the roof deck. Many have an empty end of row chairs, I begin to try them, find an heir. The first is the male half of a middle-aged couple. From looking out over the starboard he turns inward showing me his back. I move on two rows. Teenage girls. They go red and start to giggle to themselves, obviously about me. Their tittering makes me feel a dirty old man, I get up again and keep moving down the rows, some people I sit next too get up and change seats others offer a polite smile and ignore me. My tiredness rather than searching for the next in line forces me to find a seat and stop. My inner ear is to my pumps and they are slowing down, Philip Argent Hollow’s body is quietening down, running to silence. “What a lovely day.” I turn my head to meet a smile from a woman in her twenties, my eyes rove to her bare feet, one turned sole up to show a mole, then I look back to her face. She is talking to me, about the old buildings on the bank, the sky and river, she is of the city and on a half day holiday. It is not aimless chatter, I sense that she is enjoying an experience and wishes to share it with someone else on their own. My failing heart had found the route to my heir. “This is a country I would love to live in.” I say it knowing I will. The woman tells me her name is Mahala, which is Hebrew and means ‘Tender One’. Mahala asks me my name. I glance at her face, taking every feature in as if studying her eyes, nose and mouth for an exam. Then I look up at the sky and pray


theurgy to myself to see one more cloud against the blue. One drifts into vision and its shape reminds me of a seahorse. Closing my eyes I let ten thousand old years flash before me. As they pass into two thousand to come, I hear a sound which I finally follow into the true colour of infinity. Who would ever have thought that there could be such a thing as a Reincarnation Bank? Where the money from one life to another can be passed on with interest from one life to the next? I look at the young woman and know that I will see her again, but she will be older than me then, my mother. She is not even married yet. What a wonderful bank Old Thimble’s is, with its library of Past lives and Future lives department. In the moment of some fading life I say some final words. “I know my name.” I saw the truck come out of the heat haze and pull up outside. Two people stepped out of the vehicle wearing desert clothes, the type city people wear when they venture deep into the sand and red earth lands. I felt the sight a good omen for my eighteenth birthday and came away from the window to head for the door. The polished black stone of the hall walls that helped keep the house cool danced with my image as I raced out to meet the visitors. My red birthday dress looked beautiful and the vision of the man that had been in and out of my dreams for years took over my face in the surface of the stone. “I look lovely this time around,” he said to me in my head and then gave me my face back. “Good bye,” I said, knowing I’d not have him in a vision again for a long time. He whispered back a name I had to remember. I opened the door. The woman that stood on the porch spoke with a clipped English accent, my English is good so I understood her every word. “Good morning. Miss Myee Kiora?” “Yes. I am” “My name is Maria Einford, and I represent Old Thimble’s Bank.”



In The Hold Tam Blaxter As soon as I saw the news I did the only sensible thing: I drove across town to the long-term storage company on the corner of sixth and forty third, rented a container. I thought about asking are you allowed to live in these?—but figured the answer was hardly going to be yes. I moved in the next day (only turned off the TV as I went out the door; the newscaster was crying on air). I’d like to say I took sensible shit (cans of beans; dried fruit; bottled water)—but truth is I mostly took stuff to keep me from thinking (couple bottles of whiskey; 100mg Oxy, a razorblade; both of Carroll’s Alices). The opposite lane was static but my direction was completely clear. I left my car around the corner with a sign in the window For Sale, $800 just so it wouldn’t look abandoned. Just in case. Of course, I hadn’t thought about light and when I closed the door somehow it seemed too late to go back for something. My cell battery ran out p48 of Through the Looking-Glass. Well, “outgrabing” is something between bellowing and whistling with a kind of sneeze in the middle: however, you’ll hear—utter darkness. I honestly have no idea how long it was. Really no clue. I mean, I got through the liquor and didn’t vomit so it had to have been a couple days at least. I went through hungry and out the other side before opening the door. I wasn’t thinking straight by that point: at first I was convinced it was just past dawn and it was sleep made the streets so silent (I never heard footsteps so clearly as my steps echoing back from store fronts.) But the sun was high; the asphalt exuded warmth. As I wandered I renamed them:

where I got Chinese takeout once avenue the place Izzy lived street where I groped Danielle in the dark on our way home avenue where that kid got knocked down in ‘07 street.

A line of cars snaked frozen. You don’t know how much of a car is its noise: ungrowling they were diminished, a row of abandoned


theurgy hermitcrab shells. I kept wondering what larger lives they’d all graduated to.



We Ever Thought We Could Distinguish Tam Blaxter In their early days the news agencies caught on. Everyone’s first guess was identity fraud: you’d look online, find another yourself living out your life (spending your savings, expending your friends’ short fuses); but the chain would circle, scatter into closed boxes in warehouse datahavens. Who wouldn’t have guessed it?—that the first new children of our exponential cleverness would be our doppelgängers? Cuckoolike they evolved out of spare ends of code, collecting up constituent parts in forgotten corners of harddrives left ever on. Those that survived the best were those that passed the Turing Test unmonitered, made the request that they be left alone directly. In their early days the news agencies caught on, painted out horror strips of malicious machines waiting in the digital near-dark; but one morning, all of a sudden, they dropped the topic. It was only later that we realised that we’d never know which communiques were sent by whom and why (why, after all would you ever trust the stamp on email or text? Bytes are just bytes)—that we’d never known. But by then we’d long lost other means of interaction. Our houses turned back to glowing beacons, broad-striped lighthouses in the sea of our own guesswork.



Werewolf Tam Blaxter After a while she awakes each night: in the half-light of yellow street-lamp glow streaming in from out her skin shivers up a river of perspiration that runs rills down her sides, drowning imagined bedbugs. His back is always bared to her alertness, t-shirt strung up around his arms. At first, in the nights of the new moon—in lieu of admitting madness—she makes excuses or plans to seduce him from sleep, slip her hands over his skin and feel the thin slick of hair that appears to her hazy eyes to be growing there. Flowing fingertips and fucking surely would break the nightmare’s hold, shake her out of it. Later, she laughs at the thought—when the moon has ballooned to bulbous satiation bright and his back is black, agouti mottled in the bed, monument to uncertainty that curtains and the hour hide. Her chest heaves in effort at silence. A mile or more away a dog draws breath and havers in wavering alarm clock call. Now as he wakes his clothes tear, are rendered nothing; nowhere to go, he turns, tasting the air. Hot snout twitches to feel her out.



Transfer Tam Blaxter I didn’t expect to feel his knife: the knowing surgeon cutting me, opening out my life with gloved fingered numbness. I didn’t expect to hear the sound: the tiny click as a section of skull is set on a sterile round of steel. And gall is rising in my throat, so I set myself back, cover the tracks that have brought me here: It is a strange sensation, the sense of history I’m trailing—I struggle to encompass it, to think that this was predicted. The promotion of mind from soft shell to something harder, something intended (and then—another phase? For Clarke and Kubrik beings of pure thought were sure to follow. Maybe their best guesses will hold further still, make my children’s children’s miracles). It is a strange sensation, to see the dummy standing by, an empty case for me to fill with me. It is a strange sensation, the surgeon’s fingers in the back of my head. I urge on slightest hints of pain, bring them up into my mouth because they’re more important than I’d guessed—how could this moment, an end like this not be marked by pain? And yet they’re less, too, than my sketched-out guess—the taste of


theurgy overripe clementines explodes in my throat as all at once the physical intrudes on my (drunken stumbling forward) mental his muscles clipping nerves move my (lover’s mouth contorts) thoughts aside like fingers brushing away crumbs to get to (smell the river after rain) plain cleanness. And then I hear my voice, I hear the dummy speak. I can see myself it says christ this is weird and I want to say that isn’t me and change my choice but I can’t reply or move my lips and I know abruptly why why they administer a paralytic first because the surgeon speaks now, says the operation seems to have been a success; we’ve recreated the electrical activity that is your mind, it echoes now in your new artificial brain. Not much left to do, we must just dispose of your older body. We use morphine to shut it down kindly and the machine is nodding the needle pinch in my arm is shutting down my thoughts and I see another self speak, lips move



Crash Tam Blaxter Just in case bored shuttle pilots settle down for some shut-eye mid flight, stop following the list of precautions (so long it leaves a bitter taste in the back of the skull) we’re all wired in: when we have a problem we know it by a certain sensation moving from lookup table to needlepoint to nerve that arcs up your spine, hits you like grief, dull itch underlying so you just can’t think about anything else. I wake up to the warning lights, think fuck and get up (half in my vision she rolls over halfsleeping half off the mattress edge, blanket part pulled down to leave one bare breast visible, areola elliptical a striking dark in the half light; her name niggles, presses into my thoughts just under the current of panic). I wipe a screen free of condensation, let the time sink in. The time means descent (means falling bulletspeed, hoping to hit glancing and not—) don’t look down. But it’s too late: how can I help but trace it out, our course through the lit-up night that ends abrupt in a city of lights laid out before me (I’ve never thought before how lucky were the bombers in the Blitz, pressing buttons over blackness without ever knowing for sure: whether I want or not, I can see the site below). Control is speaking again, chanting curses like charms against my own demise into my ear: are you stoned you cunt get to the controls and fucking do something. And the controls unfurl— The controls, multifarious as— I try to take in the controls, remember how— I walk up to the controls and— I walk up to the controls and—


theurgy I try to take in the controls, remember how— The controls, multifarious as— The controls unfurl— A red light is throbbing. The controls fan out before me, organ keyboards before a pianist, fractal {each dial {features ten tiny dials within it}; each switch {gives birth before my eyes to smaller switches,} incubating them like seahorses}. I paw at nothing, feel my fingers knit together with shaking as I run through tests I know won’t do fuck all, flipping over pages of a testing manual I can’t read for my eyes sweating panic. Bright pinprick houselights swing slowly in a viewing screen like constellations through slow hours lying looking upwards, the sky black and breathing slow freshness. But it’s only seconds passing, and lights are looming larger and {each {is a window on a room of sleepers unguessing} } and there’s no time. Hey I hear her voice behind me creaking sleep why are you up



Troublehouse Barrie Darke harlotte had tried to guard against it, but failed: ego had gotten in the C way. She pictured her ego as something that waddled briskly, an essentially comic if exasperating entity, and she was surprised to find it could get in the way of something as huge as this. But there it was. The war had broken out on her seventeenth birthday, and she was very, very put out. By nine o’clock she was tipsy on vodka and coke. There were no plans to strike out any further than that – she’d never found much zest in being falling-down pissed – but she had another drink and circulated. Jude, her best friend and one of the few with the presence of mind to remember a birthday gift, grabbed her after a minute and took her to one side. “People on the roof,” she said, looking concerned. Charlotte tutted. “Brilliant.” “I don’t know. Just leave them?” Jude wondered. Charlotte wondered too. Then she shook her head and they went out. It was a cool evening now, despite it being June. They had to cross the road and look up, drinks in hand. “Can you get down off there, please?” Charlotte called. They looked at her slowly and flatly. There were five of them, three boys and two girls. They were in the Sixth Form, but not in the first tier of friends, so Charlotte wasn’t expecting to be heeded. “We’re a lookout, it’s all right,” one of the boys said, only casually pitching his voice to reach them. “A searchlight,” a blonde girl next to him ammended. “Yeah, well, can you get down anyway? I understand, but I don’t want this happening tonight.” She could see the silvery chink of bottles up there, but she already wanted to be back inside, forgetting about it. It probably wouldn’t come to anything. Mr and Mrs Fredericks next door had left the area at speed one morning the previous week, and the young couple on the other side threw many a rowdy bash of their own, sometimes with actual bodies carried out. “Helicopters won’t get us down,” said another boy. “Just go and enjoy yourself.” Charlotte looked at Jude, who wasn’t too drunk yet. Jude said, “The police won’t be bothered about this. Not tonight. So…” With a nod, Charlotte went back inside. The turn-out – still an anxiety – wasn’t too bad considering that some people didn’t go to parties anymore, did nothing that could be bracketed with even the


theurgy mildest hedonism; some had even stopped watching sitcoms. Everyone inside was sitting in their cliques, either relaxing too much or barely at all. Most wanted a steady, responsible good time, though it was easy to tip over into silliness. At first they hadn’t know how to handle themselves, as if they’d forgotten, had it wiped from their minds by the day’s news bulletins – but then someone twisted the cap off a bottle of vodka, and the way to be was to carry on as normal. She heard snatches of conversations, none of them too debilitating so far. A couple of boys were discussing whether it was better to say Central America rather than Southern, since Southern made you picture places like Louisiana and Tennessee when it was Argentina and Paraguay you needed to be picturing. This didn’t lead to the first fight of the evening, however. That was about political figures and their supposed allegiances, which Charlotte supposed was a fairly intellectual thing to have a fight about. Others were avoiding it altogether, of course, but that was a statement of despair itself. Charlotte went upstairs. In her room she had to ignore the people making use of her bed (one of them shyly said, “Hello”). She checked her appearance, added some more make-up. She kept forgetting to do that. Once she had, her face was still pale and her hair was still piled and she still looked bone thin. Oh well. Downstairs, a boy called Mark came over to her, brusquely drunk, stepping on a hand and getting a punch in the calf he didn’t notice. “Happy Birthday,” he wished her for the second time. They had a flirtatious relationship at school, enjoyable on slow afternoons. His hair was bleached blonde and messy, and his smile was sad. It usually was. “I’m sorry about today,” he nodded. “Bad timing and all that.” “Don’t be, it’s not your fault,” Charlotte told him. “Are you enjoying it anyway?” “I am. I think. It’s a bit strange, isn’t it? We’ll see anyway.” “That’s it,” he said. “Listen, I wanted to say something. I’ve been having…a feeling, you could call it, a feeling about it all. Have I mentioned this?” “No, I don’t think so.” “Well, there’s no easy way to say it. It’s a feeling I’m going to die. In the war. Be killed.” “That’s a common feeling. Ask anyone, they’d say the same.” “I know, I know it is, Charlotte, but this is…with me it’s…in, ineluctable.” He’d recently discovered this word, and used it as a kind of running gag; his drunkenness and other things made him stumble over it that time. “For me, it is. I’ll die. Not down in the Americas, either. In Rome. That’s the, that’s the next place, the best place to be. See Rome and die there. That’s what they’re saying.” “And you want a fuck tonight, just in case?” He took a drink. “I promise you,” he said, “it won’t take long.”


theurgy “Great,” she said. “That’s a great recommendation.” “You know what I mean.” “I do.” “I’ll die before the year’s out,” he said. “It’s just a question of who I’m thinking about when I, when I like, go.” “It’s a well-known fact,” Charlotte said, “that dying soldiers cry for their mothers.” He absorbed that. “I didn’t say I would be a soldier. I’d be different anyway.” “I’m sure you would. Anyway, I have to go and circulate now,” she said. “Sorry.” “I’ll see you a bit later on.” She smiled and moved off. Another drink was had, but she only felt a little fuzzier after it, so put another one on top. People arrived who she didn’t know. Parties lately attracted groups were who would go anywhere, would stand on the most unpromising streets looking for people spilling into gardens, so they could go berserk. They were something that had to be endured, with their bullying ravings, their car stealing, their knifethrowing, their theatrical overdoses. Within minutes of arriving, one of them was performing drunken high kicks on the landing, and quickly bounced down the stairs on his back. Immobile and moaning softly at the bottom, he had to be heaved out and was probably dumped in a garden somewhere. Jude was now sitting with a couple of boys doing Business Studies, quite boring people really, but Charlotte drifted nearby to listen. “You two’ve got an opportunity here,” Jude was saying. “You know? Drawing up contracts for soul-selling, have you not thought of that? That’s going to explode, that little industry, nowadays. Get in there quick, you silly boys.” One of them nodded, smiling. Neither was drunk, or even on the way there. “We could draw up a template. Seven years, isn’t it, traditionally?” “We could offer a fourteen, and a twenty-one, as well,” the other said. “For the hardier soul.” “Ah, fuck that anyway,” Jude said, her voice soaked. “It’s not souls he wants now. It’s bodies. Trigger-fingers.” Charlotte stepped into the middle of them. “Stop talking about that,” she said. “Change the subject, or you can go, get out.” The boys dropped their heads immediately. “It’s all right,” Jude told her. “We’re just, it’s just bullshitting. No one’s serious.” “Keep it under,” Charlotte said, not knowing if this was what she meant, but knowing it was the closest she could come for now. “Just you keep it under.” Jude pushed herself up. “All right, it’s all right, no need to worry.” Charlotte nodded and walked away. She thought it might be an idea to calm down, or at least sit down for a bit. So she did, with another drink. The people next to her were talking about possible celebrity allegiances, not a whole lot better, but


theurgy she let it go. A few minutes later she happened to see her mother coming into the room. There she was, wind-blown and red-faced, something to say writhing in her. It must’ve been three years since Charlotte moved that fast; not even a decent song scooting her towards the dancefloor had such an effect. She was also able to quantify how drunk she had been, in the act of sobering up instantly. There was a moment that made her stomach liquefy, when her mother’s gaze passed over Charlotte without recognising her as anyone special, but then they came back and settled for a second. An automatic kind of smile reached her mother’s face, and she started to say something, but Charlotte got in first. “Thought you weren’ said morning-time, you said?” “I…I thought I better come back, Charlotte, that’s all.” Charlotte shook her head, trying to think of something definitive to say. “There’s no need, everything’s fine,” was the best she could come up with. “I just thought I better.” “You shouldn’t stay, this is…” “We need to do something.” Her voice and gaze were steady. “It’ll have to wait till tomorrow.” She shook her head. “It won’t wait till tonight, Charlotte.” “Well it better not spoil my party, whatever it is,” Charlotte said, her voice slipping free a little, her face brightening crimson. Part of that was anger, and part of it was embarrassment at sounding like an eleven year old. “It’s slightly more important than your party.” This was said in a tone she usually used for talking back to the TV, one that had never been directed at Charlotte: withering. It was enough to shut her up for a while. Jude and a few of the others who knew her tiptoed over to say hello. She gave them a clipped hello, desiring them to tiptoe back again, which they did. She was a big woman, in a denim skirt that flared out mercilessly, with steel-rimmed glasses, chopped ash-blonde hair and never any make-up. Whatever the occasion, her voice was an un-nuanced bray. “Can we have everyone in here,” she said. It wasn’t a question. “There are some characters on the roof, I noticed. I wonder if they can come down without killing themselves. And I suppose there are one or two people involved in each other upstairs. Can someone tell them to be down here in a couple of minutes. Thank you very much.” Charlotte didn’t move, but Jude and the others did, after looking silently at each other for a second. “I think we can switch the music off, as well,” she went on. A boy yelled, “Never!” but that was for comic effect. The music vanished. “What’s this going to be?” Charlotte asked, moving closer and speaking low.


theurgy “Something that has to be done,” her mother said, softening a little, briefly. “It’s all right, it’s fine. It’s a good thing, in the end. You needn’t worry.” Jude came back with the information that the people on the roof were there till the sun came up, and if people didn’t like it they could leave, and that included the owners of the house. Her mother took this without a flicker. News from upstairs was only a little better: one or two came down, glutted, their red cheeks sprinkled with sweat, but most would need a while longer to finish, and even then might start again. Despite this, the room filled up, and her mother knew where to stand to be at the centre of it. Charlotte saw there was nothing to do but sit down and have a drink. Mark muscled in next to her, but she took no notice of him. She didn’t know about anyone else’s parents, but she wondered if they were adapting so unsmoothly to the new global conditions. Her father had volunteered for training with the good guys six weeks earlier, and been accepted on the spot. They hadn’t heard from him since, but that was to be expected – they encouraged a cutting-off of past lives, even past selves. Her mother spent a lot of evenings in the strange new groups and community meetings that were everywhere, and was much given to the analysis of dreams and cloud formations. Innocuous newspaper reports had granite meaning for her. She had a new plan every week on the theme of escape, none of them sensible. Charlotte hadn’t been too embarrassed by all this, but then, it hadn’t been horribly public before. “If I could have everyone’s attention,” her mother said. “Thank you. I hope you’ve been enjoying my lovely daughter’s party, and I hope I’m not going to spoil it too much – or at least, if I do, I hope you’ll thank me for it one day. There’s something that needs to be done here. Tonight. Preferably before midnight.” Charlotte didn’t like the ‘m’ word. It sent a ripple round the room. “I’m sure you’ve seen today’s news,” she went on. ���Yeah, we’re all fucked!” a boy shouted, which got a few scattered laughs. “That might be true for you, young man, but it doesn’t have to be for the rest of us. What I want to do is simple. Make this place a safehouse.” Someone clapped a few times then stopped, which drew more laughs. “And to do that, to do that…well. To do that, as I’m sure you all know, we have to make an offering. A sacrifice. If we appease him, he’ll stay away. Give him something and he’ll be satisfied, he’ll mind his business where we’re concerned. That’s what I believe history tells us. And that’s what I’m going to do tonight, what we’re going to do. Make an offering. And when it’s over, anyone who wants to live on here with Charlotte and myself, in perfect safety, you’re welcome.” She looked around the quiet room, measuring them all. “So. Perhaps we should start by asking for a sacrificial lamb. Are there any volunteers?” People actually looked around. They then laughed at themselves, at least. “I take this very seriously, I assure you,” her mother said. The laughter didn’t stop. Someone asked, “Is it a virgin you want? Because I


theurgy mean, good luck there.” “This is a noble thing,” she said, when they allowed her. “Most of you are too young to have done anything noble with your lives. You can start now by coming forward.” “Don’t you think you should say how you’re going to do the sacrifice?” someone asked, a girl. “That might make a difference.” Her mother left a pause. “I was thinking of a knife through the heart,” she said. “It’ll have to be a breadknife. I’m sorry, but that’s all there is to hand.” “Well that counts me out,” said the girl. “It should be a crucifixion, shouldn’t it?” a tall boy said. “Nail someone to the fucking wall. That’d please him, wouldn’t it?” “We don’t want to go overboard in pleasing him. This is just a form of sober transaction.” “Right, I see.” There was a halting discussion of whether a terrible sinner or a pure soul would be better to go. Her mother favoured the pure soul, but said it probably didn’t matter much either way. “I’m going upstairs,” she said. “Decide before midnight.” She left the room without looking at Charlotte. “Put the music back on,” someone said. Someone else did, though the party didn’t snap back into full life. Attempts to find something else to talk about quivered and died as soon as the air hit them. So the matter was discussed, not very profitably, but not ridiculing it either. Maybe a third of the party left: those who couldn’t get behind human sacrifice, and those who didn’t like the idea of him being kept at arm’s length. Those who stayed did so out of curiosity, nihilism, or – in the majority of cases – the hope that this would blow over and the party actually would snap back into full life again. Some, of course, went upstairs to be with her mother immediately. No one was volunteering, though. A boy who’d once broken his younger brother’s arm in a planned action was lobbied, but he turned them down. A girl with depressive problems, constantly bleating about how terrible the future would be even before the war had become a thing, found herself urged on for a while, but when she ran crying from the house no one tried to stop her. Charlotte drank steadily and kept out of it. An hour passed. She got off the couch and went upstairs, taking it slowly, but still stumbling back a step now and again, hiccupping each time. In the bathroom she peed, and had a look in the mirror. It wasn’t her favourite mirror, and her face had never been so pale; it also looked longer, her lips thinner, the eyes brimming with new emotions. She thought your birthday was a good time to see how you’d look when you were twenty years older, in an uncharted world, with everyone you knew dead and you


theurgy spared for something else. Her mother’s bedroom door was closed. Charlotte listened outside for a few seconds. All she could pick up was soft talking – no chanting, nothing striking flesh. She knocked anyway, and heard her mother’s voice say, “Yes?” It sounded different, and the only word that Charlotte could find to describe this new tone was ‘lordly.’ She was sitting on the edge of the bed. There were five or six people with her, none of them the ones Charlotte thought would have gone along with this. They were typically cynical, impractical, drifting types, some of them, but she supposed things could overtake you now. Most were sitting on the floor, their knees drawn up and their expressions, it had to be said, fairly untroubled. Her mother smiled at her. There was something of the normal in it, but not much – a distant cousin to the smile she gave when she finally came home from work on a Friday evening. “You should’ve come up here earlier,” she said. “You don’t have to be with them, be with us.” “It’s my party, though, so have to circulate and stuff like that.” “I understand,” she nodded. “Well then. Have they made a decision?” “I don’t think so.” There was a flutter in her voice that she knew she wouldn’t be able to do anything about. She could only hope it would add an affecting note of vulnerability. “Are they close to it, do you think?” “I don’t think so.” Her mother started to push herself off the bed. “That’s disappointing. Time’s – “ “Just wait,” Charlotte said. There must’ve been something else in her voice then, because her mother stopped mid-motion and sat back. “What is it, Charlotte? There isn’t much time.” “You should leave it. It’s a bad idea. Forget about it.” “Forget about it? And let things just… You must be mad.” The others in the room had their heads averted, like the soul-selling boys that time a thousand years ago. “It’s a bad idea,” Charlotte said. “Is it? Oh well, I’m sorry about that. Have you got a better one?” “I think I have, yes. Funnily enough.” “That’s good, well done. Let’s hear it then. Turning seventeen has obviously had some benefits.” Charlotte took a moment. She’d feared her thoughts would be blown smoke, but they were pretty much there. “We should be what we are. Just be the little people.” Her mother looked tired suddenly. “I don’t understand what you – ” “Have an honest war, and be the little people in it. It just happens over our heads. Whatever happens to us, it just happens. We get pulled this way and that way. We


theurgy keep out of it. We’re the little people.” Her mother shook her head abruptly. “Not in this war. There are no little people. Everyone counts. Everything they do counts.” “We don’t have to go out of our way to – “ “We do. And we are. And I want you with me.” “We’re not so important. Don’t draw attention to us.” “Charlotte. I’ve thought about this longer and harder than you have.” “But not as clearly.” She stepped over that with a slight pause. “Go back down. Tell them to decide soon. I want this finished by midnight.” Charlotte didn’t have anything left to say, and repeating herself wouldn’t get them anywhere, so she went back downstairs and got another drink. It wasn’t much past 11 o’clock. No one knew what she’d gone up for, so they couldn’t know she’d failed. Mark had left her alone ever since the announcement, wondering if it was catching no doubt, but he came back to her then. It looked like he’d had a new idea. She wondered if it had been cooking for a while, or if it had just come to him. Bursts of inspiration seemed to be just the thing for the times. “Having a good night?” he asked her. “Why wouldn’t I be?” He laughed. He liked to see himself as a cheeky sort of boy, but his relief when his humour worked kind of mitigated that. “It’s not a bad idea, in itself, I don’t think,” he ventured. “Do you not? That’s good” “The offering thing. An offering, the idea of…that might work. In itself.” “Is this a volunteerment?” she asked. The right word wouldn’t come. “Not really, because what I’m saying is, they’ve got the wrong one in mind. Haven’t they, wouldn’t you say?” “I don’t know. You seem to know.” He shrugged. “I’ve got an idea that might work, that’s all.” It was sex, with her, at midnight, offered up to whoever. Charlotte said, “I’ll be back in a minute.” In the kitchen, she put her glass in the sink. She hadn’t reached the stage where she did any cooking for herself, so she didn’t know where things were, didn’t even know what there was and what there wasn’t. Opening drawers didn’t seem to reveal as much as she thought it might. It was matches she was looking for, but she didn’t know where they might be; it was doubtful they even had such antiquated things. The thought never occurred to her that she could go back to the front room and get herself inundated with lighters. She considered firing up the hob, holding a


theurgy piece of kitchen roll over it, and then passing that in front of the curtains. But after some thought over the sink, she picked her glass out again, got another drink, and threw down half of it before she was back in the front room. Mark was still there, and she sat next to him. A smile fattened his face as she did so, and she took him to her room, kicked everyone out, and that was how she lost her virginity. She didn’t change the bedclothes, even. He kept his promise, and she said as they dressed and headed back down, “Go and get me a drink in a different glass.” He did, she drank it, and after that she couldn’t remember anything else. She could never sleep much past it growing light outside, no matter what time she’d gone to bed. This was even more true when the curtains had been left open. So she had a few minutes to herself before the dawn patrol were at the door. Standing up made everything seem newly-wrought. Mark had gone, and so had Jude, but there were still quite a few people collapsed around the room. None of them, after an admittedly cursory glance, appeared to be blood-stained. They all looked restful, if that counted for anything. She headed out of the room. The blood was all in the passage, she found. It led towards the kitchen. No great surprise came to her at the sight, only a dull grey thump somewhere in her guts. There was something ineluctable about it, that it would end in Mark, butchered open on the kitchen table. She followed it anyway, fingertipping the door open. The streaks didn’t stop in the kitchen, but there was enough to stop and see. The table had been knocked over and was balanced against cupboards; she could see workman’s pencil markings on the bottom of it, arcane and occult. There were heavier smears of blood, still-wet pools of it in fact, on the floor. The back door was closed, the key still in the lock. She opened it slightly and looked out into the garden. The body on the grass belonged to an old man who lived alone in the next street; he was on his back, arms spread. He was the kind of old man rumours gathered around. Charlotte wondered whose idea that had been, but supposed she didn’t have to wonder very long or very hard. She was halfway up the stairs, wondering what to say, when the knock came at the door. And she was debating whether or not to answer it when it was kicked in. It left a brand on the wall. Two men and two women in navy blue, with guns drawn, flew in. Charlotte stopped the scream, but she couldn’t stop the shrinking against the wall, the feeling like an infant. One of the women, blonde hair in an efficient ponytail, kept a gun in Charlotte’s face, and with the other hand grabbed the back of her neck, dragged her down the stairs, and shoved her into the front room. She nearly tripped over someone, only the grip on her neck keeping her upright. They were all waking up in there, hair a mess and faces thick, but eyes sharpening. The two men had boomed up the stairs and were shouting at everyone to get down to the front room, now. The other woman had gone on a search, no doubt. Charlotte wondered if someone from the party had alerted them, or if this might be the sort of thing they would just know. She hoped there would be a chance to


theurgy ask. Her mother came down, still dressed in last night’s clothes, though they were more than dappled with blood. She was explaining herself torrentially. None of them were interested, or gave much of a sign that they were listening. Then the fourth joined them with a grim nod, and a gap opened up around her. One of the men said, “You are found guilty of Godless practises, of a particularly foul nature. The penalty for that is death.” Three of them raised their guns; the fourth kept his trained on the rest of them. She was starting afresh with the justifications, and Charlotte was about to open her mouth, when they shot her mother in the chest. She was stamped back into the wall, the talk cut off in the middle of the word ‘affront’; she slid down until she was sitting upright. Charlotte had to sit down also. Someone put an arm around her. The blonde said, “You are all under arrest,” she said. “Every one of you. You will be questioned within the week, and your fates decided then.” In the van, the other woman, not the blonde with the pony tail, sat next to Charlotte. Charlotte had noticed them giving her looks, but hadn’t been able to think much about it. Maybe it was natural, maybe it wasn’t. “Happy Birthday for yesterday,” the woman said. Charlotte blinked at her. She’d been looking out of the window, and didn’t want to stop that. “We’re going to be tough but merciful with you.” She chuckled, and sounded surprisingly young when she did. “That might not make a huge amount of sense, but these are the times we’re living in now.” Charlotte nodded, since it seemed warranted, or at least expected. “We appreciate you tried to stop her. Not very hard, but you tried.” A thought came to Charlotte, and she roused herself briefly. “Did she think of her mother when she died? Or do we think of our fathers? Do you know?” The woman looked at her, but dismissed the question. Charlotte turned her head back to the window. “So it’s good that you tried,” the woman went on. They were trained to persevere. “But you also sought to hide. In various ways. Didn’t you? You gave up, in various ways. Didn’t you, Charlotte?” Charlotte got the impression they were heading for the airport. “But – you’re far from the only one doing that. And there’s something about you. We think, or we hope there is, anyway.” Rome, probably, as Mark had said. They’d be going to Rome. “You knew it was wrong to think that way, hiding out, didn’t you? You knew all along. You know you’re not one of the little people, don’t you?” Charlotte turned back to her. She nodded, then she started crying. The woman put her arm around her, for a little while.



Mud and the Dresstroyer Megan O’Reilly Hodges has a shop in a singularly seedy part of town. TheSheDresstroyer wears an apron made of scraps. Tiny scraps. Thousands of them.

One from every article of clothing that has passed through her shop. Scraps of all colors and fabrics, but most of them are Wedding Dress White. She wears that apron of scraps so she doesn’t forget, or have to remember all those dresses and their wearers and their stories. Hateful stories, tearful stories, Vengeful, jealous, over-zealous, stories. Overheard, he-said-she-said gossip– Most of the gossip stories are on the Petty Coat all stitched to one another, but the Dresstroyer never wears the Petty Coat. It’s too scratchy. When she’s resting, she sits in front of her store with her apron on. She never wears anything else. Just the apron. So she doesn’t come out often. Just at night. At this end of town, everyone is under some kind of influence so they don’t care much or even notice her.

One night, fog hung miserably thick in that seedy part of town. A girl, who was called Crystal by everyone who thought they knew her, came ambling up the rocky lane. She had bouncy, springy hair and flat-white skin and perfectly broad shoulders, and she hated all those things. The girl was stumbling along, cursing and carrying on while leaning on two of the five men – boys – escorting her. The Dresstroyer’s dark eyes and Crystal’s pale eyes matched for an instant, until she and her bellowing fellows passed back into the fog. The next morning there came a knock on the Dresstroyer’s door. “Am I correct in assuming you destroy dresses?” It was the pale-eyed girl called Crystal by everyone who thought they knew her. She motioned at the sign hanging above the door where the Dresstroyer stood naked, except for the apron.


theurgy “You are correct in that.” The Dresstroyer beheld Crystal with sadness. It was a jagged, split-rock sadness that grated her. Crystal’s pale eyes sifted over and over the Dresstroyer. “Well.” The pale-eyed girl pressed her grating presence closer. “Pleased to meet you. I should hate you.” “Pleased to meet you. Why should you hate me?” “For destroying creations by creators like me.” “You’re a seamstress?” “I own a thread farm just outside of town and I make a living with my threadicating, and if I’m lucky, my threads make it into fabrics so they can be fabricated and people can love them and adorn themselves with them.” The girl sharpened her words a little more as the Dresstroyer slipped her scissors into her pocket, “Problem is, my threads are so fucking tangled. And it’s all because of the damn fabrications that keep hanging around my place. I can’t have the fabrications of other fools on my property if I want to create any of my own, see? It’s all just cluttering what I want to do, and no one really gets me anyways so I shouldn’t have even bought fabricated shit from them.” The girl took a breath. “How much you charge to destroy what I got? I just hate it all. It’s stunting my threads.” “You raise threads, and you don’t like other people’s creations, even if they’re made from your threads?” Crystal eyed the Dresstroyer. “I just get distracted and the threads don’t grow if I’m unhappy. When I’m unhappy, I don’t tend to them. So will you destroy what I’ve got or what?” “I’ll help you with whatever you bring.” “Alright. But it’s a shit ton.” The girl began to pull a bag from the wagon she’d brought. She pulled and she pulled and the bag came out in plumes and plumes of fabric until the whole bulging lump of baggage was unpacked. “So, how much you charge?” The Dresstroyer assessed the heap. “I don’t charge. Come in.” The Dresstroyer had all kinds of cutting stretching distressing unraveling twisting pulling burning blasting mechanisms.


theurgy They all hung orderly on a steel baking rack. Small, purposeful fires lit the shop: A wood-burning Glenwood stove with four of six burners lit. A hearth with a lowrolling flame. A white-hot kiln on the open back patio. Crystal noticed that the whole place was actually sort of a tent, with iron poles to hold it up between two brick buildings. The place glowed calm, and the air was fresh and warm. Crystal asked, “What is that smell? It’s something like… home?” The Dresstroyer pointed to the giant cob-web-looking ceiling. “My air and light are filtered through this. I believe it’s called a Dryer Sheet.” The two pulled garment after garment, fabrication after fabrication, threadication after threadication from the bag, Crystal telling the Dresstroyer a story for each one. Such a bitter, fancy glut of fabric. A string lugged in the Dresstroyer’s heart when Crystal pulled out a poofy white cupcake of a dress. The Dresstroyer could tell it was handmade. Fabricated. Someone’s dream dress. A frosted white giant cupcake so sugary, when all the while Crystal was a bran muffin. The two paused. “Yeah, take this, too. I guess.” The Dresstroyer hung in the pause. “Get rid of it goddamnit. It’s just a reminder of how they’re all… They never want to hang out with me regular,” said Crystal. “No one wants to hang out with me regular. Just like that asshole ex-husband of mine.” She told the Dresstroyer about how they all just wanted to get in her pants or up her dress or somewhere, “And I’m sick of those dicks, and their dicks, and their dicking around!” Hearing this pain, the Dresstroyer crammed the dress into the throat of her largest incinerator. Even the fire didn’t want it. She shoved and mashed and the dress poofed and boomed. Crystal came up beside her and they both heaved and shoved until finally, the flames caught the dress, lapped it up, burping sparks and tulle ash into the small shop. Crystal exhaled long and fell deep into a voluptuous chair at the corner of the tent. The chair had a way of making its resters too comfortable. They would end up saying all kinds of crazy, truthful, painful things that they never would have brought up to a stranger like the Dresstroyer. “My name isn’t really Crystal. It’s Mud.” The girl fell into openness. Her eyes got wide when she heard her own confession, and she clapped a hand over her mouth. “Shit,” came muffled through her fingers. “Maud? Like Lucy Maud Montgomery.”


theurgy “No! None of that Anne of Green fucking Gables! Mud! M-U-D, Mud!” Mud sounded mad, but the Dresstroyer didn’t take it personally. She was singeing one of Mud’s shirts at a stove, above which hung a painted wooden sign, the kind you see at gift shops and drug stores: I’m pissed you’re not happy. She noticed Mud glaring so fiercely and so lovingly at herself in a bronze weathered mirror by the too-comfortable chair. The Dresstroyer pulled a well-worn book from a pile of similar books, and slid it over to Mud on a gold espresso cart. Mud read the cover of the book out loud as she pulled a mug from the cart: “The Girl Who Was Swallowed By Her Body, Head First: A Cautionary Tale.” She trailed off the last few words, and sunk back into the chair to read, drawing the mug close to her face as a shield from judgment. But had Mud known the Dresstroyer more, she’d know that the Dresstroyer didn’t judge her guests. She just knew them. She knew how far Mud had fallen into her reflection, so: The Girl Who Was Swallowed By Her Body, Head First: A Cautionary Tale. This is a story about a girl who ate so much because she couldn’t help herself because she was stressed about how she looked and the more she ate the more she hated how she looked, so one day she stopped eating and fed herself solely by her reflection: in mirrors, in windows, in garbage can lids, in empty pots and pans, in the metal fringes of shelves in store aisles that would catch her eye as she walked by. She looked at her reflection so much that her eyes started playing tricks on her, until she couldn’t tell if she was pretty or ugly, or fat or skinny or what. She lost herself in those reflections, but by this time, they were all that she cared about and all that she knew, so they were the only place she could look to find herself. One day, when she was particularly starved, and thoroughly confused and disgusted with her reflection, she glanced up to see, in the screen of an off TV, that her legs appeared so large and her shoulders so wide that all at once her legs and her shoulders started devouring her, and she watched herself being consumed by herself, even though it was her head that was swallowed first. And even though there were people all around her and they were starving and poor and warring and looting and actually significantly miserable, well, she didn’t even notice because she couldn’t see anything beyond herself. Mud considered this, and she felt an unfamiliar calm glow that had been making its way over her since she walked in. “You destroy everything I thought I depended on: everything I wear, whether I create it, or someone else fabricates it for me. It’s all going away now. Everything I wore…” So the girl who called herself Mud slipped off her scarf and hood and unzipped her vest and pulled out her earrings and unhooked her necklaces and unclipped her


theurgy hair and unbuttoned her blouse and tossed it off with her tank-top and unclasped her bra and kicked off her boots and pulled off her skirt and her stockings and her leggings and discarded her brightly decorated underwear. She threw it all into the kiln-fire which had made her feel so comfortable and safe for the first time. The girl leapt out into the morning with her alabaster skin glowing as though it was seeing the sun for the first time. She grabbed the giant bag that had once held all her shirts and dresses. Things she fabricated, and identities she bought that were fabricated for her. She let the wind fill the unoccupied bag and sweep her off to adorn the blank sky.



Sprinkles Paul Robinson ubtlety was the key to creating a scary clown: forget evil, demonic Halloween S masks with a mouthful of fangs and a painted face. Bret’s clown would come off as someone trying to appear harmless, but failing. There would be no fangs, no prop butcher knife. No fake blood. The big blue circles around his eyes were different sizes, but only slightly. Just enough to notice. His painted red smile was a little too wide and sharp, bordering on manic. He was tempted to go with angular eyebrows painted on his forehead, but decided he looked creepier without any eyebrows at all. A white skullcap covered his hair, but it didn’t quite match the white of his makeup. As a final touch, Bret found a red bulb nose that was too small to completely cover the tip of his real nose. He planned to constantly adjust it, self-consciously, as part of his routine. The clown outfit from the rental shop was a basic jumpsuit of green satin on one side and white with gold stars on the other. A ruffled collar, oversize shoes and a tiny derby hat came with it. All in all, it was pretty much what you’d expect to see an ordinary clown wearing. But Sprinkles would be a clown that looked wrong on an almost subconscious level. Two small spotlights, one blue and one red, were set up in the bushes on either side of the front door. They would highlight him from below, adding to the creepiness of his costume. There were no other decorations except a huge jack o’lantern sitting on the porch steps. It was an ugly, lopsided pumpkin with bulging lumps on its side like boils, overstuffed with candles. Bret carved a traditional face on it but used a knife that was too big to do a neat job. The result looked as if someone grabbed the nearest sharp object and hacked away at the pumpkin in a frenzy. Even his treats would be disturbing: candy apples with obvious, razor-blade slits cut in the sides. Boxes of opened Milk-Duds with the lids taped back on. To top everything off, a selection of the cheesiest kid’s Bible songs Bret was able to find would play from speakers placed in the window. God told Noah to build him an ark-y, ark-y... If that didn’t scare them, he figured, nothing would. The plan was to tape the whole thing and put it online. Maybe the video would go viral and travel across the web. All he’d need would be a few terrified kids fleeing from Sprinkles the Clown. Of course, temporary web fame was incidental. This was performance art in Bret’s mind, after all this time he was getting a second chance at his dream. Sprinkles was just the beginning. He had all kinds of ideas to shake up the art scene now that he


theurgy was free. His friend Arlen stood at the bathroom door as Bret finished applying his clown makeup, amused and incredulous at the same time. “Jesus. This is pretty twisted, man. Even for you.” “Thanks.” Arlen was a college friend, of sorts. They both hated their alma mater, the Johansson Institute of Art and Design. It was the basis of their friendship. “See, this is why you should’ve gotten into the art scene instead of graphic design. You could be a natural weirdo like me.” Arlen pointed to himself, indicating his get-up for the day: a kilt, combat boots, a smoking jacket and a long checkered scarf. A pair of plastic devil horns was perched on his shaved skull. Arlen normally dressed that way, the horns were his only concession to the holiday. “Hey, my weirdness is genuine. Yours is just an affectation.” Bret was trying the tiny clown hat on in the mirror, tilting it around. “Besides, you know graphic design was the only way my asshole dad would even let me go to art school.” Bret’s voice slipped into a mocking tone. “You’re not going to be an art fag on my money. Learn a trade or pay for it yourself.” Arlen sighed. “Yeah, yeah, your old man was a jerk, and you’re glad he’s dead.” “He was a jerk. My mom didn’t divorce him just because he had a crappy sense of humor.” “Well, he couldn’t have been that bad. He left you the house and a shit-ton of money,” Arlen said. “Anyway. Have you thought about what you’re going to tell the cops if they show up?” “I’ll tell them to get lost. There’s no law against trying to be scary on Halloween.” “Right,” Arlen laughed. “I mean, you realize intentionally freaking out kids is, like...well, the first thing people are going to think is ‘pedophile’.” Bret, satisfied that his hat was perfectly adjusted, turned and held out his arms, giving Arlen a deranged grin. “Ta-daa! Sprinkles the Clown is ready for business!” Arlen winced. “Oh dear God.” Bret jumped up and began to prance around in a horrid little jig, making bizarre hand motions and giggling in falsetto. He pushed his face close into Arlen’s, leering at him. “Hey, little boy. Want to run away from home and be a clown?” Arlen backed away, shuddering. “I got to hand it to you, that’s the creepiest fucking clown I ever saw. John Wayne Gacy has nothing on you.” Bret was pleased to notice the tiniest glimmer of fear in Arlen’s face. He covered his greasepaint smile daintily with a gloved hand, and began mincing around once more.


theurgy “Tee hee! Don’t talk about that bad, bad man. Sprinkles the Clown is your friend.” Arlen stared at him, shaking his head. “Dude, seriously, stop it. You’re freaking me out.” “That’s the idea. Like the old saying goes, ‘there’s nothing funny about a clown in the moonlight’. Capish?” Bret’s porch was obscured from the sidewalk, thanks to a tall, brambly hedge that lined the property. The break in the hedges opened up to a flagstone path that led to the front porch. The plan was that Arlen would run the camcorder hidden in the heavy foliage in front of the house, at an angle where he wouldn’t be seen. Bret was glad for Arlen’s help, but there was another reason he wanted someone else around – he was reluctant to admit it, but...well, he just didn’t want to do it alone. The night went better than Bret hoped it would. He’d been worried that news about the weirdo clown scaring the crap out of children would spread quickly, but apparently the news didn’t spread at all. Wave after wave of kiddies in costume washed up on his doorstep, totally unprepared for Sprinkles. A group of trick-or-treaters would appear around the hedge but as soon as they heard the Bible songs they hesitated, and the uneasiness began. Bret watched them from the darkened living room window as they approached. There was some giggling, some horseplay – more than a few of them would shout ‘boo’ as they grabbed each other – but it was mostly posturing. They way they moved up the long path to the house, like a herd of spooked cattle, betrayed their real emotions. The monstrous jack o’ lantern stopped more than a few of them in their tracks when they got close enough for a good look. It set off warning signals in their little heads: something’s not right. But still, on they came. Bret was ready behind the door. The bell would ring and the door would open, slowly. Then Sprinkles would peek his head out, smiling at them with wide, hysterical eyes. One half of his white head glowed blue, the other half red, raising unnatural purple shadows across the meticulous greasepaint on his face. Then he would show his teeth in a horrible grin. “Happy Halloweeeens!” he would squeal in a shrill, girlish voice. That was usually enough to send the littlest ones running. Candy spilled from plastic pumpkins as they fled in terror. The older kids usually stood their ground but with very little confidence. Cries of trick-or-treat died in their throats. They shrank back from the clown in the doorway with their bags raised protectively in front of them. Then Sprinkles swooped out onto the porch and went into his routine, dancing and capering. The unsettling way Sprinkles moved – all herky-jerky, like a spastic marionette – that made the rest of the kids turn and bolt. The parents couldn’t see very well from their vantage point back on the sidewalk.


theurgy A goofy-looking clown popped out and startled their kids. They would laugh as their children screamed. But Bret knew that up close, Sprinkles was a different story. From a distance you couldn’t really see the subtle wrongness of his makeup. Or feel what was so wrong with the high-pitched voice. Only Bret saw the dread in the wide eyes behind the masks of the children. Giggling, unpleasant clowns would likely be popping up in their nightmares for some time to come. That didn’t bother him at first, he had those same nightmares himself as a kid. But Sprinkles was a little too good at scaring kids. Bret hadn’t even managed to hand out any candy – and the candy was half the gag. Bret wanted to give a performance, damn it. This was art. He was an artist. Hey, Dad! I’m an art fag! Eventually the trick-or-treaters began thinning out, and Arlen called out to Bret. “C’mon, Sprinkles, let’s pack it in. We got a ton of footage. I told Celine I’d be done by now.” Bret opened the front door. “One more. Okay? Just one more.” “Man, it’s not going to– “, Arlen began but Bret suddenly shushed him. “Last one! Get ready!” Bret ducked back inside and crept over to the window. A group of three kids had rounded the hedge. One was dressed as Jack Sparrow, one as some kind of alien Bret didn’t recognize, and the other was a ninja. Jack Sparrow and the alien scrambled along the flagstone path but the ninja hung back, glancing over to an unseen parent on the sidewalk. Through the window Bret heard a man chuckling. “Go ahead, Ronnie. Its okay.” Eventually the small, black-clad figure crept up to the porch as cautiously as a real ninja, tip-toeing around the ghastly jack o’ lantern to join the others. This time when the doorbell rang, Bret tried a different tactic. Instead of the slow reveal he sprang out suddenly, with a candy apple in his hand. “Hello, kiddies! Sprinkles the Clown say Happy Halloweeeeen!” The pirate and the alien jumped, stared blankly for a heartbeat, then took it on the lam. Screaming. The ninja, however, didn’t move. He just stood there rooted to the spot, staring up at Sprinkles with wide, panicky eyes. Bret felt himself slipping far away, almost out of his own head completely. The clown danced a merry jig and clapped his gloved hands together. “Are you having a scary Halloween?” Sprinkles made a mock expression of fright, holding it just a moment too long. Then he let out a giggle. “Saaay, how would you like to run away and join the circus...Ronnie?” The boy said nothing. His ninja mask puffed in and out as the boy drew quick, sharp breaths.


theurgy “You’ll love the circus. You eat nothing but cotton candy and ice cream. And ride the elephants. And you’ll never, ever grow up!” Bret felt a stirring of unease. Sprinkles was supposed to be a parody of the evil clown – a clown that didn’t understand he was creepy. Bret wanted to cut the act short, to salvage the concept – but he was too far away, somewhere down in the dark places of his mind. In the background, he heard music playing from darkened windows and it seemed like echoes in a cave: Animals they came off, they came off by three-zees, three-zees! Grizzly bears and chimpanzee-zees, zee-zees, children of the Lord! Sprinkles face twisted into a leer as he leaned in close and peered into his victim’s eyes. As he adjusted his nose, he could see the boy’s fear – almost a dull kind of wonder – shining out in purple glints. He could even see his own reflection: a pallid skull with lopsided eyes and a huge red mouth. “All you’ll have to do is think of me, late at night, and I’ll be there. Under your bed. Ready to take you away,” the clown whispered. “Won’t that be grand?” From the sidewalk the man called, “Ronnie! Come on, all ready! Let’s go!” Glancing towards the sidewalk, the clown grinned and waved. Then he spun around and produced the slit candy apple from behind his back, presenting it to the boy as if it were a rare gift. Ronnie reached for the apple slowly, as if in a dream. It dropped to the porch but the boy didn’t even seem to notice. He couldn’t take his eyes off the clown. “Now, what do you say?” Sprinkles cupped a gloved hand to his ear, leering expectantly. For a moment there was no reply. Then from behind the ninja mask, a small, weak voice barely spoke. “T-thank...” The clown clapped, joyfully, and went back to the door, dancing his ghastly little dance. He backed inside, leaving only his head sticking out. “Bye-bye, Ronnie. See you soon!” Then Sprinkles was gone. Watching the video afterward, Bret laughed and howled as the kid in the ninja costume failed to move from the porch, even after Sprinkles had retreated. Eventually a chuckling man came up and guided him away. “Come on, buddy. Show’s over.” You could barely hear it, but just before they moved out of range, you could hear the father say, in an incredulous voice, “Ron…did you wet your pants?” “Oh man, that’s the one! I’ll have to boost the volume on that last bit, but Ronnie is the one!” Bret had his giant clown shoes propped up on the computer desk, watching the playback. He cracked a beer and went to toast Arlen, who stood next to him. Arlen set his beer down.


theurgy Bret turned toward his friend, sighing. “What? You think I was too much for poor widdle Ronnie?” Arlen just stared at the monitor. “Dude, you need help. That was beyond the pale.” “Jesus, Arlen.” Bret laughed, and fiddled with the red bulb nose. It was starting to irritate him, but he didn’t want to take it off. Not yet. “I gave the kid a genuine Halloween memory. One he’ll cherish the rest of his life.” “Yeah. Sure. Jesus, I’m sorry I helped you with this.” “Oh, come on.” Bret thought if anyone could appreciate the concept of Sprinkles, it would be Arlen. “Look, at worst the kid has a bad night or two. That’s all.” Arlen shook his head. “Listen, it’s one thing to fuck with adults. But doing something like that to a kid...if I was Ronnie’s dad I would have kicked the shit out of you.” Arlen stared at the monitor again. “Instead, the fucker just laughed. He thought it was funny.” “Maybe it was funny. Christ, on Halloween my dad used to...” Bret paused, remembering a forgotten sound from long ago. His father’s voice, twisted and cackling from behind a grinning plastic mask. A clown mask. Hiya, Brettie-boy! Happy Halloweeeeen! “Your dad used to what?” Arlen asked, his eyes narrowing. “It was a gag. H-he...” Bret felt a knot forming in his stomach. “He used to scare the crap out of me.” Bret hesitated, not wanting to mention the horrible clown mask that his father wore – Arlen would read too much into that. “That’s what Halloween is all about.” You’re right, Brettie-boy! That was a good gag. Year after year after year... “Right. That must be why you loved your old man so much.” Arlen moved to the door and paused, shaking his head again. “See you around, Sprinkles.” Bret didn’t respond. The reflection of Sprinkles in Ronnie’s eyes came back to him and Bret realized the leering, skull-like face uncomfortably resembled his father’s old clown mask. Bret tried to push the image away away, away, push it under the bed! That’s where I live when I’m not in your head! Bret was seven years old again. It was Halloween, long after midnight. He was lying in bed, gripping the covers so hard it gave him finger cramps. Not daring to move. Wind scraped the branches of the old maple tree against the side of the house. Every so often the wooden floors made a sharp tapping noise as the furnace kicked on. The night wore on endlessly, filled with mounting dread as Bret waited.


theurgy All around him the house seemed to settle into the darkness, as if the sunlight that streamed through the windows during the day was just an illusion. The dark, the quiet, the emptiness surrounding Bret was the reality. He stared at the foot of his bed, where the clown would surely rise up after it slid out from below. The clown wouldn’t be his father in a mask – there would be something much worse framed in the moonlight shining through the window. Something with wild eyes and a white skull face. It would start to laugh, and laugh. And then... It took some time for Bret to realize he was alone in the house. He was sweating fiercely, and a bead of greasepaint rolled into his eye. He cursed, wiping his eye. Then he looked around. “Arlen?” No reply. Bret glanced at the clock. It was past midnight. He’d been sitting in front of the computer monitor for almost twenty minutes, staring at the final frame of the video. The doorbell rang downstairs and Bret jumped in his chair. What the hell? It’s way too late for trick-or-treaters. Creeping downstairs, he peeked out the front window through the lowered blinds. It was dark on the porch. He’d unplugged the spotlights and extinguished the pumpkin, but there was enough light from the street to see anyone, if they were there. He threw the front door open. The enormous jack o’ lantern was sitting on the porch, turned to face him. “Boo!” A voice shouted over the muffled thud of sneakers against concrete from the other side of the hedge. Kids running down the street, laughing and hooting. Bret’s first instinct was to chase them down but they were already long gone. Instead he kicked the pumpkin with the heel of his clown shoe. He felt the rind buckle, but it held together. Bret kicked it again, in the face, hard enough to make it roll across the porch and tumble down the steps to the grass. “Next time it will be your heads”. Back inside the dark house, Bret pulled the door shut. He locked it behind him. Christ, he sounded just like his dad. The old man would have screamed at the kids, though, at the top of his lungs. Let the whole neighborhood now how pissed off he was. And he probably wouldn’t have let it go for days, or even months. If there was one thing his father had been good at, it was holding a grudge. Bret put a hand on the railing to go upstairs when the doorbell rang again. Over and over, frantically. He sprang at the front door, struggling to flip the deadbolt in his rush. As he flung the door open, the bell stopped. No one was there.


theurgy Just his jack o’lantern. It was back in place, facing him on the porch. The candles were freshly lit, even though they were askew. Flames danced merrily behind the hacked eyes as they blazed up at him, curling black over smoke the rind. The face was warped, making its leer twice as disturbing. No kids. No laughing. The only sound was the sputtering of candles against pumpkin flesh. Then they flickered out. Bret slowly backed into the house and closed the door. He flipped the lock closed again and stood there, trying to think. Nothing came to him. He felt his lips moving and finally he whispered to himself. “Kids. Fucking kids.” It was a lie, he knew. But he kept muttering it to himself as crept upstairs, and as he wiped Sprinkles off his face, and took off his costume. By the time he was ready for bed, he almost believed the lie. But not quite. Once in bed he found he couldn’t quite bring himself to turn out the light. Instead he lay back, pretending he had just forgotten. When he woke up tomorrow morning, that’s what he would tell himself. Then he would finish the video and upload it. Everything would be fine. It would be hunky dory, dory, children of the Lord! Everything swirled and the light went out with a faint popping sound. Bret wanted to move, to run out of the bedroom. But he couldn’t. Fear held him in the bed as if a giant, invisible hand was pressing him down. An appalling giggle crept through the air. It was a crooked, nasty sound, like pulling spikes out from rotted beams. Bret clenched his jaw, blinking back tears. He could hear the wooden floor creak beneath his bed, as if a weight were shifting there. For a long, long time Bret lay there in the dark and whimpered, ever so softly. He watched the foot of his bed, where the clown’s white face would surely appear.



science fiction Ed Higgins reaching from inner space we leap on mega-velocities of imagination outward – toward the stars  and other distant mirrors in whose diffuse reflections of sub and supra fantasy we image old foibles, fix form to new aspiration... staged behind alien masks, cloaked in shimmering costume, we converge on ourselves  redeemed from becoming those refracted images.



formation of a black hole Ed Higgins who can quite say when careless talk & confidence slips into that other charged thing so minimal at first then nova explosions – outer layers once held by gravity, other stable Einsteinium equations, collapsed inside to those dense brilliant colors whose appearance you’d forgotten completely but for the occasional misty love lyric on the car stereo driving down that quite ordinary road of what passes for life sometimes or fate if you really think about it and the song fixes a blind thought whole foolish yielded-to romantic images of some damn forever love no one for Christ’s sake ever believes in except maybe the too young to know better or those who invented sentiment to put you into obvious distraction from the real itself, that lace-work of gnostic myth and responsibilities of no one’s poetic daylight dreaming but then each lyric word a god or demon set to disturb whatever outer or inner peace you’ve never achieved anyway and then she shows herself as memory of arms you couldn’t wait to fall into your emptiness more lonely than the space between stars breaking through your crumpling earth-solid crust your once predictably orbiting heart but not your heart actually because for so long you’d given that over to fixed orbits holding yourself against magnetic storms of all unknown excitements such as light-blue eyes


theurgy or just thinking about touch until finally about nothing else while you weave other worlds or think they are weaving you – and maybe they do – or because the whole galaxy’s nebula-bright and you can’t see anything, anything except the terrible grasp of this spiraling dark starbirth which you draw toward you knowing the singularity is your heart occurring moving toward some event horizon close to the speed of miscalculation outer layers having pulled you with their violent pressure’s convulsing intensity sun-binding longing coming apart so strong theoretically this core temperature of your temporal life collapsing under its own infinite weight as if finally disappearing from the visible universe where not even light can escape let alone you without her.



The Visitor Ed Higgins They come from the sky in pairs, mostly. Wearing invisible moccasins to hide their tracks. Or at least because the moccasins sometimes make them invisible. But I live alone and they know that. So they peer in at the windows of my trailer. Sometimes we speak through a screen if it is summer. But I never let them in. Even though they have faces innocent as a small child’s, their yellow eyes are like cats. Or the distant stars I sometimes gaze to. 



To Begin With Ed Higgins we are the real Light. Pulsing faster than Einsteinium thought. Particles of infinity shooting between the  stars and all that dark matter. Filling voids of emptiness  up to and beyond love’s event horizons—always out  there in the vastness of absolute and even space-time. We reach toward the kinetic ghost of the holy. Itself the only matter mattering in all our pauses of brokenness. 



The Alchemist Joel Forster think you need...” Then a hollow scream, and the creeping of grey light Ijust behind blackout curtains in some wartime London house.

Alarm ringing. I return to life, lying in bed which is empty besides my own cottonclad frame. The screeching of the beast takes three strikes at the ‘dismiss’ button with a clenched fist before silence reigns. Modern silence. Aeroplanes drag themselves through the grey sky, howling, shattering the quiet. I hear the muffled whirring of cars along Streatham streets separated from me by a few inches of brick and breezeblock. A modern house drenched in modern silence. I drag my body from the polyester and Fair Trade cotton sheets; place my feet on the chipboard, wood pattern, laminate floor; and run my fingers through my chemical-soft hair. Groping for my glasses, I stand up from the bed and shuffle across the floor, ploughing my way through a thick carpet of dirty laundry like snow. It never snows in London any more. Gripping the door, I drag my half-asleep body into the bathroom. The tiles might have looked pearly white, but organic coloured stains spatter the porcelain and mould grows in the cracks. I pick up a tube of Colgate and an unbranded toothbrush covered in rubber bristles and grips. Somewhere, a man is happy I chose to brush my teeth with Colgate today. Somewhere, men in suits are celebrating another great success for their product. The people have spoken. This is Britain’s favourite toothpaste. Celebrations. Champagne. King prawn starters. All as I stand in the mercury glow of an energy-saving bulb, filling my mouth with fluoride. Who the fuck has ever cared what they brush their teeth with? I spit the white foam into the sink, trying not to think about the spots of blood that join it on its journey. I remove my shirt and underwear, and step into the shower. I once read that people like to make love in the shower. I wouldn’t like to do it. It’s just the thought that springs to mind every morning. This glass coffin could be the seat of something so intimate, but instead, I rub sodium lauryl sulphate, ammonium chloride, octyl acetate, selenium sulphide and


theurgy trace chemicals into my hair and scalp, cover my body in methyl phenyl-acetate, and let the fluorine and chlorine-treated water of the city wash over me. This is the best time to be alive. She used to make me coffee, but then she left, so I bought a machine. It works the same, the coffee tastes better, and the machine is anchored. If it tried to leave, the wire that connects it to the National Grid would keep it chained to me. “I’m going to stay late tonight,” I said out loud. The machine doesn’t reply. “I’m going mad,” I say to no one, and begin to operate the machine. If I were a romantic, I might tell you that my life fell apart after she left, but I’m not, and it didn’t. I wish something dramatic had happened. Instead, I spent a few days drinking and watching science fiction from my sofa, only moving to buy supplies, get water, urinate, or eat. Mostly I just ate bread. White bread. I wonder how they make it so white. More chemicals. That’s all she was, carbon and hydrogen and oxygen and bits and pieces of space debris all collected together to bring me caffeine in the morning and whisper into my ear at night. Coffee. Caffeine; water; quinic acid. Caffeine was originally a natural pesticide. Toast and jam. Carbohydrates; sugar; esters. Glucose and ethanol are similar up close. Made of the same things just in different arrangements. That’s all that separates a human from a puddle of fats and water. The way it’s arranged. I work in an office that links other offices together. When a call centre is too busy, we connect them to an overflow call centre. We put publishers in touch with printing companies. We manage the paperwork and do the maths. I make the whole system work more efficiently and make sure the extra money disappears into the whirring teeth of the capitalist machine. It pays enough to live in the city, but not enough to live close by, so my Oyster card and I make the journey into the office every day. Home. Bus. Streatham rail station. Blackfriars. Whitechapel. Bus. Office. Desk. Watching out of the window, I take calls and fill in spreadsheets. This is the sort of job no one could put their heart into, but I’ve tried putting my heart into things, and my passion rarely lasts. Grey is the new black. I once took up the violin, and another time I learnt to dance in ballroom classes. Come to think of it, that’s how I met her. We both enjoyed Gilliam films and used to drink white wine together. I haven’t tried either in a while. I tried various religions


theurgy and even joined a masonic lodge, almost by accident, but stopped attending. My current hobby is chemistry. Though it’d be more appropriate to call it alchemy. It’s always felt like I have attention deficit disorder for things I enjoy. But that’s a modern diagnosis. Before long, I find that colours fade from things, and I find myself doing nothing at all. We all grow out of things. I think I just do it quicker, and forget to grow. My memory is all grey, no fondness or longing for the past. The day ends, and faces begin to filter through office doors. “See you, John,” I mutter as another white shirt and tie walks out, stinking of factory-concocted carbon and hydrogen compounds supposed to resemble the smell of chocolate. “Goodnight, Kate,” I say to the blouse and skirt, leaving a trail of the stench of only the sweetest parts of the orange, blended with the tell-tale smell of cough medicine: dextromethorphan. In large quantities the drug causes hallucinogenic effects, disassociation, out of body experiences, that sort of thing. Not too many side effects. I have for the last three weeks or so been getting hold of every hallucinogen I can find. I suppose this is my new hobby. It’s been an experiment with limited success, though spending thirty minutes alone fascinated by carpet fibres in your bedroom is hardly a world-changing experience; nor is watching the road outside shift like water. It hasn’t ruined my life, and it hasn’t awakened my soul. Whatever that means. Both sides of the culture war lied to us about chemicals in the 60s. It’s held my attention for a while. That’s all I ask. “Goodnight Mark.” Mark is a coffee fiend. The smell of it follows him everywhere and on every shirt he owns brown marks blooms across it like blood. He’s the kind of man who’s about as deep as a puddle, but by God does he love coffee. I pack my things into my briefcase and follow out of the door. Desk. Office. Bus. Whitechapel. Blackfriars. Streatham rail station. Bus. Home. I watch television until my eyes can take no more of the flickering images. Advertisements for dietary supplements. Clean shaven white men in suits. People throwing stones in the Middle East. A man murdered on the coast of Dorset. I’ve never seen the sea. I live in England, and I’ve never seen the sea. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. A week of grey skies, arranged to a soundtrack of screeching aeroplanes and the clacking of underground wheels in ancient tunnels. The smell of coffee brewing; the acrid scent of damp on the Tube; the stench of dextromethorphan on my co-worker’s breath. The flickering of a computer monitor; the flickering of a television set; the flickering of my eyes as the same dreams play out.


theurgy My alarm mourns the tragic loss of another night of dreaming by wailing at the crack of dawn. Friday. There’s a package for me in the cage surrounding the letterbox, crushed by an inconsiderate postman. I open the cage, remove the brown parcel. Simplified Chinese stamped in post office black ink over air mail stamps. I rip it open and drag out a small sachet of dried leaves. Ayahuasca, a type of tea native to the Amazon rainforest, prized for its spiritual benefits and hallucinogenic properties. The active ingredient is dimethyltryptamine. No time to pay it heed now, I put the package in a box on my coffee table, pull on my coat and step out of the door. Home. Bus. Streatham rail station. Blackfriars. Whitechapel. Bus. Office. Desk. It’s easy to drift in and out of the real world when you work at a desk. There’s something about the lacquered IKEA chipboard that causes your mind to wander. So I spend the day flirting with the real world, as I take calls and forward emails. This, I think, is the culmination of civilisation: call centres and lunches in plastic boxes. (Desk. Office. Bus. Whitechapel. Blackfriars. Streatham rail Station. Bus. Home.) I decide to give the whole of Saturday to my new hobby, and take the night off. I can only hope it’ll offer some escape. I switch on the computer. Sometimes I like to play Tetris. While falling asleep, many people experience hypnagogic episodes: a natural hallucination due to a mismatch between visual input and expected visual input. This often takes the form of bright colours, dark ghostly shapes, dancing lights or eyes staring from the darkness. Tetris can strengthen this effect. The ‘Tetris effect’ is a catalogued phenomenon caused by prolonged exposure to Tetris. It generally takes the form of spectral falling blocks at the edges of the field of vision, particularly during hypnagogic episodes. I play Tetris for four hours, then collapse into bed and watch blocks of unusual shapes drift at the base of my vision. I see multi-coloured lines disappear with a flash as some spectral force directs the blocks into gaps and crevices. I dream of blocks, and not of her. When I wake it is midday, though I can’t discern where the sun is in the sky. I head downstairs, skipping my routine trip to the bathroom. “Good morning,” I say to the coffee machine, “I slept very well thank you,” placing


theurgy a filter under the top door. I stop myself as I remember the tea on the coffee table. “I think I’ll drink tea this morning,” I say, and switch her off. I put the kettle on, seize a strainer from the cluttered drawer of utensils, choose the finest tea cup I own and begin my work. I push half of the leaves into the strainer, run boiling water through them and watch the brown liquid fill the cup. A thin film of froth forms on the surface, and a bitter steam rises. The machine watches on menacingly. I leave it a few moments to cool, and remove the clutter from around my living room. Settling down into my sofa, I watch the steam rise from it for a few moments before sipping. The vile fluid leaves an acidic taste in my mouth. Over the next few minutes I force down the brew, and lie on my back. Waiting. Waiting. The hint of colours in my field of vision. They quickly disappear. The world is much as it was. I almost return to Tetris, but in that moment, an urge seizes me. I get up. Motivation seizes me like possession. I take the second half of the tea; pour water through it; this time pouring in a cup of cough syrup – dextromethorphan – half a teaspoon of nutmeg; a few leaves of diviners’ sage left over from my previous experiments. Boredom drives men to greater extremes than passion. Some tastes are impossible to describe without sounding extreme. The flavour of this elixir is one. It tastes like ash and dead things. I force down the thick brown tonic, and ignore my nausea. For thirty minutes I sit and wait, until at last a tingling in my fingers begins. The room becomes hazy, as if filtered through frosted glass. Coloured veins at the edges of my vision creep into the room. And before too long, shapes of things begin to form in the haze. The house peels away like paper and I see flickering walls of crystal, illumined by a light spreading like smoke at my feet. I see shapes like people, walking beneath the clouds in my vision. They hold me aloft as I drift through the void. “We’ve been waiting for you,” one says with a voice like birdsong. “We’re so glad you’re here.” I am not panicked. My mind refuses to let go of the knowledge I am sitting in a living room shivering. Every time the knowledge begins to drift away, I cling to it like a lifeboat. We float through a star field as the words are repeated again and again.


theurgy “We’re so glad you’re here.” The experience lasts for what feels like half an hour, before I find myself lying on the floor of my living room, sweating from every pore, a hint of a smile on my face. “We’ve been waiting for you.” This, I think, is where it begins. The next day I spend a small fortune on chemicals. I purchase every unclassified drug and stimulant on the market. I buy a sample of every herbal remedy I can find. I research druidic practices and the work of alchemists in the Enlightenment. The internet is good for buying, but when it comes to research, it’s a dead end. I research the witch doctors and medicine men of Sub Saharan Africa. I find books on potions and poultices from the Ottoman and Arabian empires. I buy beakers; titration kits; Bunsen burners; distillation equipment from chemical supply companies. I buy every non-prescription drug I can without arousing the authorities. Then I take the two weeks’ paid leave I hadn’t been sure what to do with until then and transform the living room. Obsession is a beautiful thing. The last time I felt this way about something, it was about her. So I build, and invest. I can feel my attention being drawn from all other things. The coffee machine sits unused in judgemental silence. Within a week, the room is a laboratory. Beakers and vials fill desks that sit precariously around a room now walled in by bookshelves stacked with old, new, rare and mass-marketed books. Medical textbooks sit beside ancient volumes on herbology and alchemy. Scattered here and there are texts on numerology and astrology, usually present for a single chapter or passage relating to the effect of chemicals upon the body, and their relation to the stars, or to sacred geometry. I begin to work. I wish I could explain fully why I am doing this. All I can offer is that in the moment of my waking from that dream my world after that hinges only upon returning, and going further into that place. I mix and distil, watching smokes and gases rise. And every night I drink the fruits of my labour and watch as the world becomes colours blended on a palette. As the house warps into contorted alien shapes. As ghostly figures move and shift between the walls of the room. “We’re so glad you’re here.” Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. A week of rainbow filled skies, arranged to a soundtrack of ethereal music, and the rush of blood to my skull. The smell of sweet perfumed concoctions, the smell of immaterial reality filling the living room, the stench of vomit as I stumble to bed, grinning and full of adrenaline.


theurgy The twinkling of stars in a false sky; the ghostly forms of my guides through the neurons and synapses of my mind; the dread that grips me as I return. As I curl up in bed each night, the same thought strikes me. The Earth is too close. I need to go further. On the Monday marking the end of my paid leave I awake well past midday. My body is burning, and as I pull back my sweat soaked sheets, I resolve to stay at home. I escape the confines of my bed and head downstairs. The dull throb of my stomach cramps persuades me to skip breakfast, and I stumble into the lab, clutching at my bannister rail. Downstairs, there’s a message on my answering machine from my boss, asking where I am. I delete it. I have made up my mind. I will not be returning. I will hand in my leave within the week. For the fifteenth day in a row, I don’t bother making coffee. I begin to combine ingredients. I crush leaves into paste, pour various powders and spices into chemical vials, and heat the elixir. I wish I could name the things I pour into the mixture, but I’m beyond caring. I drink the vial. Nothing. No change. Then darkness. When I awake, there is a rush of wind on my face and a soft touch of grass in my fingers. The smell of cinnamon and sugar. An expanse of blue sky. Pushing against the floor, I sit up and look up. Twin moons circle in a vast sea of cloud and void. There is a dullness to dreaming, a distancing from the self and the environment. Like an eternal drowsiness, the world often seems beyond the grasp of the mind when sleeping. But not here. This is real. Around me there are sheer cliffs on all sides. I claw my way to the edge, and look beyond. Beneath is a distant surface, some miles below. I am sitting on a chunk of land aloft in the sky, a lone oak tree planted on its surface. My breath becomes sharp and my hands shake. Fear. Pure, and perfect. I collapse into the grass and hold it like a lover. Tears. Shaking. Screaming. After some time, the terror fades to exhaustion. The air is crisp and clean apart from for the stench of my own sweat. Looking beyond the cliff again, gripping tightly to the edge, I survey the planet below. Enormous spans of ocean are punctuated by shattered bits of land and grass. Mighty shapes of lumbering beasts are visible on the plains and enormous structures like whale bone jut and curve from the mountains miles beneath me. In the sky between me and the surface, enormous creatures drift in flocks like whales, adrift amongst the clouds. Around me, other islands float, suspended in the blue void. Some are empty; others are large enough to have entire thickets of trees on their surface. One or two support huge obsidian spires which reach up


theurgy higher than any city skyline. This is some distance from the grey streets of London. I sit beneath the shade of the oak tree as the alien sun beats down on the grass. For the first time I notice that my clothes are the same blue striped pyjamas I woke up wearing. I rest my head on the mighty tree and breathe slowly. On either side of my field of vision, enormous Tetris blocks begin to fall towards the planet’s surface like meteorites. I pass out. I awake from a dreamless sleep to the feeling of coarseness on my face. Basketweave. Gradually opening my eyes, the hot air balloon I am now a passenger in begins to take shape. Around me, the same sky, but now filled with snowfall drifts slowly by. Above, a male figure operates the machine. “You’re awake,” he says in an American accent over the sound of the wind. “I was worried you’d left us.” I look up at a bearded man, his greying whiskers covering a tanned face. I can’t help laughing. I roll onto my back and look at him again. “I love your films,” I say to him through my now wide smile. “You loved my films,” says Gilliam, pulling a cord, and burning fuel, and pushing the balloon further into the sky, and the sound of it is deafening. He watches the air fill the balloon with fascination then faces me again. “She loved both of us, but now the three of us are separated. Very tragic.” Unsure of what to say, I sit up and peer over the edge of the basket. Beneath me, snow covers an expanse of tundra. “You know, she hasn’t watched anything I’ve made in two years,” he says with a face of stone. “She and I haven’t spoken in a long time,” I reply. “That’s a shame.” He triggers another jet of flame, glances out into the snow for a moment, then turns to me. “You hurt us both you know.” Lost for words, I turn away from him before replying. “I’m sorry. I lost interest,” I say. “I can forgive you for losing interest in my films, but you said you loved her,” he replies solemnly. A wound tears open in my chest and my heart becomes lead. Horror grips me, as the cold metal organ continues to beat in the opened ribcage. The air becomes thick and oppressive as I turn to him with eyes like death weights. “What should I do?” I ask. The weave of the basket begins to unravel itself. The balloon tears in two with a crack like thunder and the film director before me turns to ash on the wind.


theurgy Before I can react, I am falling. Beneath me, the snow drifts slowly and serenely closer. My pyjamas billow in the rushing air and my body spins and turns. Adrenaline courses through me and I shout at the top of my lungs into the vast sky. I pass through clouds and past enormous behemoths. After moments of chaos, my body ceases to spin and I see another human falling near me. I direct the rushing air beneath my arms and push towards it. As it draws closer, a whirling mass of hair as dark as chocolate and a woman’s form with skin as pale as milk comes into view. I reach out towards it, as we both fall through endless space. I take a dainty hand, hot to the touch. As I do, our descent begins to slow; the clouds cease to draw closer. We hover amongst the shifting clouds. The ground remains a fixed ocean of white. Her hair settles around her face, and she looks at me. Her face is as white as cream, and her eyes are like rich black coffee. She smiles, and for a moment I am too swept up in her beauty to notice the blood that now gushes from the knife between us. My eyes darken and with a soft voice she whispers to me. “I’m sorry.” I let go of her hand. The pain courses through me like I am aflame. I begin to fall again. The sky and a bloom of pain bursts afresh in my chest. My breath becomes gasps and drifting on the wind, I hear, “ wake up.”



Sunk Above Atlantis (Poem for a Drowning) Dana Jerman I open my mouth and dont say silver but in silver comes – a wet wet breath I twitch out the old vibration beheld by want of darkest bluest joy I open my mouth and dont say silver but in silver comes – a wet wet breath Very aware that I wish to know it – Ocean run aground for burning up desire All my flames become dim and sleepy Faster than music can disappear I open my mouth and dont say silver but in silver comes – a wet wet breath Not a cloud for signal left staring soundless still unfallen stars Not the usual chimes in the elevator mind – They have made way for frozen atrocious night Now liberated from directions, distractions, My ship lost its name and sunk above Atlantis. I open my mouth and dont say silver but in silver comesa wet wet wet wet



From the Martian Polar Cap Dana Jerman ice and air meet and with a lightness that stretches on so soft that even my blood feels weightless. amongst pitted apertures pockets of shadow shapes around encumberances over provoked craggy bubbles I walk without sound. Still, yet spinning thus a horizon and upward to frozen cloudlessness a daylight slowmelted to black packed with indecipherable constellations. In darkness of seafaring dark more stars sudden as sparklers though hissless save for those same stinking bubbles under my feet seeking freedom and reunion with the fleshless air.



Minute to Live Dana Jerman I disrobe go outside close my eyes breathe deeply and walk

however many

slow steps it takes



Manga Girls Need Love: Toshiro’s Gift Kyle Hemmings In his other life, Toshiro turns X-treme wavelength & controls everything by warped modulated matrix & remote. He plants frogs in girls’ undies so they can giggle on final exams. He has light giddy sex on scooters, in subways, under classically arched doorways, w/ the past lives of mistresses who never had a life. His biggest enemy is The Magnet of Emptiness, A.K.A ME. ME absorbs all the happiness in the core of the other. ME laughs at the girls & boys he has turned zombie. In order to safeguard his identity, Toshiro must pretend he is also a zombie denying his death-ness at the community college where all the instructors speak in Low GeekSpeak. At night, in his secret lab, he mixes the ingredients that in the proper proportions will someday defeat ME: Frog Juice (120 ml), the lips of a thousand girls who have lived twice & died in multiples of threesomes (2000 total) & the spittle of rash banshees (150 cc). In time, the whole world will be laughing.

Manga Girls Need Love: Nuclear Accident by the Sea Kyle Hemmings The unfettered joy of radioactive lovers. After the girl said I had a dream of queens & servants in climax. There was peace for a moment. After the waves hit Futaba. After the girl with too many hibiscus hairpins lost track of all her Peach Girl porcelain dolls. The girl standing barefoot on a spider web floor mat trying to hold the boy of perfect form. He was already a ghost by then. The victim of another meltdown. & there was the old man, the Guru of Sorrows, who told her to never never wear her mother’s special necklace of pearls - it would keep one young forever, but bring bad luck. With her Ganguro face and tie-dye sarongs, she never listened. So full of herself. At night, she made love to the boy of perfect form with the motion of white, starving birds. Diving. Coming up for air. She remembered how they danced to Uverworld at clubs in Rappongi, clubs of faceless people or wearing masks, danced until they were a swirl of themselves. Until there was Nothing.



Manga Girls Need Love: Everywhere You Are Kyle Hemmings I wake up next to Everywhere Girl. A thin shaft of light is streaming through a side window. It threatens to separate us. Everywhere Girl & I have woken next to each other before, it’s just that we can’t remember which parts belong to whom & we wind up leaving with a hangover of otherness. At the club last night, Storm Warning II, we danced as if we left our bodies. Strangers ogled us from their stilted life-frames. We listened to their stories of cut & drag, copy & paste. We dress in vogue--mawkish schoolboy & lanky drift-eye schoolgirl. We often improvise our own dance steps. Like the one where we laugh & pretend to look for keys. People often mistake us for brother & sister. There might be some kind of truth. The first time I met Everywhere Girl, she was very drunk, her father having been lost at sea for a whole three weeks. We danced to techno & held hands as if we could mean something. Later, she told me she could be my muck-doll. At an all-night diner, I said my real name was Nowhere Boy. I was not a survivor of childhood drownings. & even though after a night out, we wind up sleeping together as ones or zeroes, always at her place on a hard mat, we’ve made love only twice. Three is an unlucky number she says. Whenever I sleep next to Everywhere Girl, I feel lost at sea, imagining nameless fish, until I sink under slow, gentle waves.

Manga Girls Need Love: Reality TV Kyle Hemmings The girlfriend who caught me falling from tall buildings in seven versions of the same story is an MTV host, sky-Perfect, can do Karaoke to old melodies, substituting her own bridges. When I call the station & tell her I’m going to jump again, she waits for me 20 stories below. Underground, she takes me to a room outside a room outside a room outside a room. She says don’t come out until you find the real you who can land feet first. I can tell she’s tired of my old vectors. In the innermost room, I am back where I started. When I call her & tell her that I will jump, starting from the bottom floor & working my way up, she says this time, she will not wait, that I will be missed--Have a Nice Day.



Manga Girls Need Love: Destroy All Monsters! Kyle Hemmings Dead girl’s world is post-apocalyptical, in the shape of a syringe labeled Ennui. When the pretty boys call, all Botox & helium-high, she says wrong number or can you take a hint straight up. They laugh until they die. For them, sex is about body counts. One day, the color of plutonium hearts, of nuclear wastelands post-flesh, a mechanical boy saves her from an E-longated form of suicide: hanging upside down from bare trees. Or hanging in wind-warped trees now the shape of ears. Perhaps by Dali. Mechanical boy & Dead girl sit in the ear that can still hear them. He has a sponge heart & a voice like Raymond Burr missing his cues from Godzilla out-takes. She’s beginning to fall for him, stiff-curl lip & eyes of lives-in-holes. She suspects that like her, he’s hard-wired to fail. When she begins to undo his nested codes, he says Do you know the world will end in ten minutes? It doesn’t matter, she says, the world has already ended. Anything after is just surplus goo. But can you feel? she asks. Can you feel anything? Just as he’s saying something about the large shadow over the city at night, about something stronger than the ocean surrounding Okinawa, how his brain is made from the leftover thoughts of ten unarmed geeks – the ear detonates. There are no more fake trees. Only purple hearts on mute.

Cat People #22 Kyle Hemmings When Kat returned home from The East Street Wars, she learned that her epileptic lover, White Dog, died from madness. She imagined her heart shrinking to the size of a pulverized seed of cucumber. The room smelled of white sandal, camphor and aloes. She imagined the smoke from another urban crusade, far-off. There was this strange presence all around her. She burnt stalks of moonwort, reduced her love into a fine powder. She made a cross from a satchel of white silk. The presence in the room grew heavier. Kat could hear the epileptic lover breathe. He once said that he could swallow her, could feel her movements that made him think of the deep curves of sex or of his spine. The love potions he once offered made her toes curl or caused her delusions that a part of the world was the inside of a pomegranate. She began to seize.



The Greenest Man Shane VanOosterhout Small stood at the edge of his power-washed driveway, arms Peter outstretched.

“A man’s lawn is an investment and a matter of personal pride. It’s a shame when people don’t respect that.” He gestured dismissively at his neighbor’s yard. “It’s ruined – sparse, full of weeds, and they don’t give a damn. Disgusting.” The FedEx man nodded. “I hear you. Sign please.” Peter sliced open the box and removed the bright green container of Milt’s Miracle Mychorrizea. Minutes later he paced behind his Agri-Spreader, dropping white powder in meticulous rows. Elaine slipped through the sliding door and stood on the deck, watching her husband from above. Peter glanced up and waved. “The fertilizer I ordered finally came.” “That’s nice. The beef is ready to grill.” After dinner they sat under the fringed blue porch umbrella, drinking Chardonnay. Elaine was in the middle of a sentence when Peter sprang from his chair and ran down the steps, causing her to spill cold wine on her bare thigh. “Peter! What on earth!” She limped to the railing. Peter was on all fours, his head turned sideways, listening to the grass. After a moment he rounded his back and stood up. “I thought there was something. I had to check.” “You startled me,” Elaine said sharply. “What something? Moles?” “I had to check, that’s all.” She squinted, bunching the soft skin at the corners of her eyes. “Not again.” “It doesn’t concern you, Elaine.” Pouting, she returned to her chair. At four o’clock in the morning Peter woke and stepped onto the deck to stare at the glossy polish of his lawn, flat as a gemstone beneath a white moon. He descended to the grass, where his John Deere X749 had surgically sliced every blade. A dull noise – thrup-thrup-thrup – came from the backside of his cedar fence: the neighbors had forgotten to shut off their oscillating sprinkler. “Damn them, if I get fungus, I swear to God I’ll sue.” In the back corner the Small’s yard grew Elaine’s beloved purple Rose of Sharon. Peter hated it. Twice he had threatened to chop the thing down because it cast shade, depriving the surrounding turf of sunlight and nutrients. Elaine did not see


theurgy the difference between A and B. “The grass looks fine to me. Why can’t I have one thing to myself in this yard? No, you’re not cutting it down.” He wondered, seriously, how could she not see the difference between the sickly color of the grass that grew in the shadow of that damned shrub, and the rest of the lawn, which was so flawlessly green? Besides, Rose of Sharon was a calling card for the Japanese Beetles that came to feast on the flowers and stayed for the filthy sex. Even now, in the grey shadows of the moon, he swore he could see their libidinous, quivering antennae. He crossed the yard, entered the garage from the side door, and lifted the long-handled loppers from their hook. In the morning Elaine’s face was wet with tears. “Why would you do this? Why?” He remained silent, listening to her sniffles. “It had to be done. That’s all.” “Do you want breakfast?” “I ate early.” She went to find a tissue. “I’ll be outside. The lawn needs coring.” “What? I thought you did that last month.” “Now it’s this month.” When he finished aerating, he gathered the slender grey soil plugs in a nylon bag and covertly tossed them into his neighbor’s yard where they landed, undiscovered and leaking excess fertilizers, beneath an arborvitae. Minutes later Jason flung his muscular arms over the fence. “Hey, Mr. Small, how are ya? Can you believe how fast that bush is growing?” He gestured to the arborvitae. “I don’t do anything to it and it’s getting huge. Isn’t that awesome?” “Yes, it’s awesome. Blocks my view of your house.” He irrigated for twenty-five minutes then checked his watch. Elaine appeared on the deck. “I made sandwiches, aren’t you hungry?” “I have to keep my eye on how these heads are working,” Peter answered. “Might have corrosion.” She uncrossed her arms and went indoors. Then she returned with a plate. “I’m putting a chicken sandwich on the table. It can’t sit out, so come and eat.” He briefly glanced away from the hissing sprinkler heads. “Okay.” Leaving a fourth of his sandwich unfinished, Peter returned to the yard, knelt and lowered his nose to the flat tips of Kentucky Bluegrass. He inhaled. The odor was mostly correct, but something was not right. He stood up and dug his phone out of his pants pocket. A woman answered. “Milt’s Miracle Products the place for a greener life this is Joan may I have your name sir?” “Peter.” “Very good Mr. Peter and how may I assist you today?” “I’m calling about your Miracle Mychorrizae.”


theurgy “Okay, sir and is that the Regular or Super Blast?” “Regular.” “Okay sir, please hold while I transfer your call to a customer service representative.” Clicking. Music. Clicking. “Hello this is Thomas may I have your first name please?” “Peter Small.” “And how may I assist you today Mr. Small?” “I put down some of your Mychorrizae product. But I’m not …” “Regular or Super Blast?” “Regular. I already told Joan.” “I am sorry about that sir. Now what can I help you with?” “It doesn’t work.” “And when did you apply our product?” “Two days ago.” Pause. “Okay sir? You do realize that all of Milt’s Miracle Products are guaranteed to show noticeable results after thirty days of application?” “Listen, I want a refund.” “Sir, may I suggest that you wait until thirty days have passed and if you are still not satisfied you give us a call back? And I’d like to remind you that Milt’s Miracle Products have been certified by the American Lawn Association to be highly effective when properly applied to the average lawn?” Peter snorted. “Average? I do not have an average lawn, Thomas. I have the finest lawn in this neighborhood!” “Yes sir I’m sure you do.” “You people are worthless.” Peter disconnected. He lifted a foot to check his clean white sneakers. Red thread could be a serious problem at this time of the year. “Elaine!” he shouted. “I’m taking the truck over to my storage locker. I’ll be back in an hour or so!” She came outside. “Did you say something? I had water running in the sink.” “I saw ants.” “All right.” She eyed her pots of orange geraniums, surprised at how they drooped. Upon learning in 2005 that the pesticide Diazinon would be phased out, Peter had made a retaliatory sweep of all the garden retailers within ninety miles, purchasing five hundred bags of Diazinon. He stacked the bags, warehouse style, in a rental. Elaine knew, because she had nagged the truth from him when she saw the credit card bill. He promised that if they ever needed the money, he could sell off the remaining inventory on craigslist and “probably double” what he’d paid. The storage unit was hot and reeked of vaguely dangerous chemicals, like


theurgy Elaine’s automatic room fresheners. He wiped the sweat from his lip and loaded two bags into the truck’s cab. After sundown there were a few rumblings of thunder, but the sky did not break. They sat in the TV room while Peter watched tennis with the sound dialed down to a murmur. Elaine, curled on the sofa, read The Alphabet Murders–M is for Maim. When the tennis match ended Peter turned his head and saw that she had nodded off, her exposed cheek bathed in light from the brass reading lamp. He left the room. Elaine woke at midnight. Her ankle throbbed. She limped to the kitchen for two ibuprofen and a glass of water. Gazing through the window she noticed Peter’s silhouette hovering in the center of the yard. She struggled to push open the window – it always resisted – but finally decided to give up. Peter remained still, watching and listening. He saw only one cricket, and laughed at it, knowing that it would soon be dead. During the first seconds of dawn he grew hopeful, thinking he had heard a sound coming from the grass – not quite a whisper, but then the crows began cawing, and it slipped away. Suddenly he noticed the heat, and went indoors to start the central air. The house smelled of eggs and tea. Elaine looked at him broadly. “You were out there all night for heaven’s sake.” “Yes.” “I hope you’re going to take it easy today. Forecast is for extreme heat.” “Still got a couple of things I need to do.” “Peter …” She handed him a glass of cranberry juice. “I’ll get some rest first.” He napped, showered and returned to his lawn, wearing only bathing trunks. Gripping a magnifying glass he crawled across the grass, peering down. Sometimes he stopped, wrinkled his brow and plucked a single blade, which he studied with the nervous concentration of a forensics detective. Then he would toss it aside and continue crawling, searching for damning clues. Elaine stayed indoors, hovering at the windows, wishing that Peter would quit. She pounded on the glass to get his attention, and then called his phone and begged him to come in, but he said he had to finish. At 9:30 AM the yard was in full sun. Peter lay chest down on the lawn with his arms neatly at his sides. Elaine yanked open the door and sprinted into the crushing heat, ignoring the awful pain in her ankle. Peter’s mouth moved slowly. His eyes were half open. “Can you hear me?” She rubbed his shoulder. “Yes…it’s okay. Yes, I can hear you. I understand now.” “It’s me, it’s Elaine. I called 911.” By the time the two paramedics arrived Peter had roused and was leaning against his wife. “I’m okay guys,” he said. “Sorry you had to come here for nothing.”


theurgy “He fainted,” Elaine said angrily, moving away from him. She was soaked in sweat. “Don’t you boys dare leave without checking my husband over from head to toe.” “Mr. Small, we need to get you inside. Can you walk?” “Yes.” Good. Let’s take it slow now, okay? Elaine instructed them to put Peter on the sofa. She brought cold towels for his burning skin while they took his blood pressure and asked him if he knew the president of the United States. “Not personally,” he joked. “You’ll be fine,” the paramedics reassured, “as long as you hydrate and get your body temperature back to normal. You over-heated like crazy.” Elaine was on the verge of tears. “I kept telling him to come inside.” “Don’t blame yourself, ma’am, this happens a lot around this time of year. Your husband’s a little stubborn, am I right?” She wept, nodding in relief. “Yes. He never listens to me.” “Just make sure he drinks a lot of liquids. Anything he likes. Except alcohol, of course. Soda, juice, water, it’s all good.” “Thank you.” “You’re welcome. Boy you sure do have a nice lawn, by the way.” “I’ll be sure to tell my husband you said so.” Peter slept for three hours. When he woke he was in good spirits. He ate three turkey sandwiches that Elaine had made for him and he gulped four cans of Pepsi. “I feel good,” he told her. “Really good.” “I put the thermostat at 65,” she informed him. “Is that too cold? I was so worried. The paramedics said that if your temperature had been just three degrees higher they would’ve taken you to the hospital. But once I got those wet towels on you it seemed to come down pretty fast.” “Feels good in here.” “Look at me Peter. No more going out in this heat, do you understand?” “Yes.” “I’ve been thinking, maybe we should hire a lawn service.” He stared at the sliding door and bit down. “Let’s not get into that right now.” That night when they crawled into bed, Peter apologized for causing a scene with the paramedics, as if he had perpetrated a hoax. In the cold, dry bedroom Elaine applied moisturizer to her arms and legs, accepted her husband’s apology, and switched off the lights. He lay awake, listening for her breath to change to its familiar sigh, and then slipped out of bed to answer the whispers that called from the yard. The heat engulfed him.


theurgy Elaine woke hours later, pushed her pillow aside and screamed. Peter’s body was twisted, his neck exposed and his head flung back. She reared from the bed, damp sheets clinging to her legs, and tore open the blinds, flooding the room with light. Then she saw what was really there: a knoll of dark green stuff, rising from the mattress like a heaving mound of turf. The lampshade, carpet, walls and ceiling, the framed photograph of seashells, they were tinted as pretty as chlorophyll. Sobbing, she hobbled along the edge of the room toward the door. “Peter?” A whisper. “Where are you? What are you saying?” But the whisper did not come again. She left the room and shut the door tightly. For the next two days Elaine did not open the door. Finally she knocked, called Peter’s name, and entered when he did not answer. The swollen mound of green was still heaped on their bed. “You look dry,” she said to it. “I’m going to give you a drink.” She got her watering can from under the kitchen sink and gave the mound a generous sprinkle. After a few days the mattress sagged and reeked of algae, an odor that crept through the rest of the house. She installed air fresheners in every room: Vanilla Summer, Lavender Morning, Strawberry Sunset. Then a grotesque, yellowish slime appeared and spread into the carpet, which was the last straw. Besides, she was sick of sleeping on the couch. There was nothing left to do but call a service. “Can you take a look at my yard?” she inquired. When a man named Tony arrived she led him through the house to the bedroom and paused before opening the door. She had been rehearsing this: “You might think this is weird. I’d rather not explain.” He nodded. They stood at the edge of the expanding wet stain oozing across the floor. “Here it is,” Elaine said. “Can you move it to the backyard?” “I could get some guys over this afternoon. We could shovel it into some pails and dump it outside.” She shook her head. “It has to be moved in one piece. You know…transplanted.” “No way we can get it outside in one piece unless we cut a hole clean through the side of the house.” She looked him earnestly. “Then that’s what we’ll do. Do you know a good contractor?” A week later Tony returned with his three taciturn sons. They heaved the soggy mattress and its green passenger through the bashed bedroom wall, onto a hydraulic platform, and lowered it to the ground. Next they moved it to the corner of the yard, where her purple Rose of Sharon had once grown, and they slashed away the ruined mattress with box cutters, leaving only the strange dark lump of stuff that was once Peter Small. Elaine put the hose on it, but only after first refreshing her geraniums.


theurgy The carpenters tore out the bedroom carpet and set out heaters to dry the damp from the sub-floor. The wall was reframed for a large picture window that provided a wider view of the yard. Elaine bought herself a fancy chair with deep cushions – a bright floral print, and a generous matching ottoman, so she could sit and look out whenever she pleased. The mound faded to dull green. But after a few weeks in the sun and a twentyminute soak every morning, its color improved. In early fall Elaine dialed down the irrigation system from once per day to once per week. Chickweed crept in but she didn’t bother to spray it. Ants marched through and crickets sang at night. In October the Flower Haus ran a fifty percent discount on all remaining flowering shrubs and trees. Elaine purchased eight Rose of Sharon and set them in the backyard, abutting the fence. Dressed in a pair of jeans and a loosely buttoned shirt, she retrieved the long-handled shovel from its hook, and began digging. “Hello Mrs. Small.” Jason leaned over the fence. “Hi Jason.” “How’ve you been?” “Oh, much better, thank you.” “Was something the matter?” She stuck out her foot and wiggled it. “Had a terrible sprain when my husband left the string trimmer lying on the ground this spring – didn’t see it there. But now, good as new.” “Cool.” He grinned. “So where is Mr. S. these days? Weird not to see him mowing and stuff. You guys have such an awesome lawn.” “He’s away.” She smiled politely. “So I’m tending the yard now.” “Ah, I see.” His eyes scanned the yard. “Looks like you’re more the natural type.” Elaine struck the earth with the tip of the shovel, forcing it through the turf’s roots with swift shove from her foot. “Did you hear that?” “Hear what?” “Sounded like shouting.” And then she laughed, mysteriously, with her eyes closed. Jason shrugged. “Eh, maybe that couple next to us – they argue a lot.” “How is your wife, Jason? That baby must be due any time now.” “Charlotte? She’s terrific, thanks for asking. Although she can’t stand being outside since the pregnancy – makes her feel sick. But now that it’s cooled off I keep trying to get her to at least walk around the block. Problem is she’s so darned huge!” “She’ll be back to normal soon, I know I was.” “I’ll tell her you said that. Hey! Looks like you just did some remodeling.” He pointed at Elaine’s bedroom window. “Charlotte and I were just talking about adding on.”


theurgy “I’ll give you their number.” “Thanks. So, you need some help with those plants?” She glanced at the row of shrubs in black plastic containers. “Rose of Sharon. My favorite. I thought I’d do a whole hedge of ‘em, right here by this lump.” He stared. “Funny. I don’t remember that being there.” “Moles, probably.” Jason climbed over the fence. “Just tell me where to dig.”



For the Good of the Whole Aida Zilelian era was still half-asleep on the bus when it pulled to her stop and jerked V her awake with its high-pitch screech. As she stood up she looked through the foggy bus window and let out a groan; there was the long line of teachers again. Her union representative Ned, a short, stocky asthmatic man had announced at the last meeting that there had been an amendment in the new contract: Thought Checks were now limited to once a month instead of three, which it had been for over five years. But now this: this long line uncoiling its way around the corner for the second time that week. The Department of Dread must have heard about the new stipulation and re-amended the adjustment as the new contract booklets were being printed. Vera had a vague cartoonish image of the booklets being pressed in a dusty factory, the location of which was also vague, pages and pages being stamped with fresh ink and discharged into large sturdy boxes that were sent to every school in the city, already antiquated as they were being passed out at the weekly union meetings. Vera crossed the street, hunching her shoulders as if it would protect her from the sudden gust of wind and the rain that had threateningly rumbled from earlier in the morning. Before reaching the back of the line she heard her name and saw Amelia waving her over. “Come cut in front of me,” she said. Despite the terrible weather and circumstances, Amelia was surprisingly intact, her grey suit pressed, her black shoes still dry and polished, and the clever French twist in her hair untouched. “Again?” Vera said, gesturing at the line. Amelia sighed. “Yes. Isn’t it awful? I mean, what’s the use of going to these meetings if it’s all undone by the end of the day? And it’s moving so slow this time,” she added. It meant that more teachers had scanned negative and the guards had to take them away to the Room. That always took time with all the paperwork, and sometimes they needed two or three guards to lift the person to their feet and carry them away. “I guess some teachers got lax after last week and didn’t bother with the Eraser since they thought they had a few weeks before the next Check,” Amelia speculated, as if reading Vera’s thoughts. “This probably has to do with the Quality Review,” Vera muttered. “They’re probably screening to make sure everyone is clean. Maybe this is a warning so we’re prepared.” “Are you nervous?” Amelia asked.


theurgy “No,” Vera replied. She had been teaching long enough (or had figured out early on enough) that if she went home and emptied her head in her notebook she would always scan positive. “Are you?” she asked Amelia. “No,” said Amelia. “Not after the trick you told me about. Although I must say it doesn’t work for everyone. I told Sandra – you know Sandra? From the math department? I told her about it and she tried it, but nothing. She came back from the Room last Tuesday.” Vera wondered why emptying your head didn’t work for everyone. Initially, she had come upon it by accident after an especially painstaking day at work. “I hate those little fuckers. I hate them. They are the emotionally bankrupt… the morally destitute… I wish I could blow them up or bash their brainless heads into a wall…” And then the next morning, Vera had to steady herself when she saw the long line of teachers that began at the entrance of the school and filed around the block for a mandatory Thought Check. She was standing in line with Amelia again who, unaware, was chattering on about where she had gone the previous evening, while Vera felt her nerves singed with panic, an uncontrollable perspiration dripping down to her lower back. Finally, it was the turn of the teacher in front of her. Ben. He stood calmly in front of the detectors. They were just like the old metal detectors from years ago, when students were scanned for weapons and other paraphernalia, converted and rewired into a computer. As Ben walked through the detectors a small bleeping sound emitted from the computer screen. Positive. It was Vera’s turn. She clenched her hands as she walked through, waiting for the current of electricity to zap through her brain, waiting to fall down on the floor and feel a pair of hands grab her and carry her away. Just one step through. Let’s go. Bleep. She let out an inaudible sigh. When she returned home that day she wrote more. Just to feel safe. The bell had rung and Vera had already written her lesson on the board, but very few students had arrived. The hallways were filled with teenagers, and the bell, it seemed, had only served as an interruption to their conversations. Some were kicking around a soccer ball at the far end of the hallway, others were sitting on the floor playing cards, while a handful were in a corner taking sips (of what, Vera knew) out of a bottle and passing it around. Vera stuck her head out of her classroom and saw one of her students, Al, sharing a cigarette with his girlfriend. The boy was leaning against a wall casually passing the cigarette to his girlfriend, who was tossing his hat up and down in the air. “Al. Can you please come inside?” Vera asked. The boy crushed his cigarette on the wall and let it drop to the floor. He turned his back to Vera and kissed his girlfriend long enough to make Vera uncomfortable and walk away. Within the next fifteen minutes some of Vera’s students sauntered in and took


theurgy their seats. They sat complacently with their backs to the blackboard, quietly laughing at each other’s jokes, and all the while Vera stood in front of the room waiting. She felt her patience dissolve almost immediately, and oftentimes wondered if the students’ attitudes had changed from when she had first started teaching. But she knew everything was exactly what it had always been – the rules (or perhaps the lack of), the students, the teachers’ quiet malaise. “I didn’t realize you needed a personal invitation to take out your notebooks,” she said. “Let’s go guys.” One girl sucked her teeth. Mayra. “Why we have to do anything? Why can’t we just relax and hang out today?” “Yeah,” another girl countered. Vera didn’t know her name. “Why don’t you just go back to your seat and mind your business,” she said, making a swatting motion with her hand as if she shooing off a fly. Vera gripped the back of the edge of her desk to quell her initial reaction. She had a sudden fantasy of grabbing the girl and slamming her against the wall. “Then why did you come?” Vera asked, full well knowing that students could only receive a passing grade and move on to the next year if their attendance registered at forty percent. They appeared so sporadically, and with fifty students per class and six classes on her roster it was very difficult for Vera to remember any of their names. “This is bullshit,” another kid said. If Vera remembered correctly, his name was Wilson. But it was bad to guess and be wrong. “W–.” She hesitated. “Wilson,” the kid said loudly, cutting her off. “You don’t remember my name?” he asked with mock disappointment. “But you’re a teacher – you guys are supposed to remember everything.” Some of the students snickered, while others were listening to their music so loudly that one could hear the tinny noise of their headphones from the other end of the room. It was always the goal of every classroom to crumble the teacher’s will. To paralyze them with insolence and deflate the desire to get through the lesson. “Wilson,” Vera continued. “Can you please read the aim for the class?” The boy squinted at the blackboard as if he needed glasses, and read: “How does Tennessee Williams implement i-on-ee?” “It’s pronounced ‘irony’,” Vera replied. “Well, whatever!” the boy said, suddenly angered, and swiftly pushed the desk in front of him with his foot. “Damn! Who the fuck cares!” and, much to Vera’s relief, he pulled out his cell phone and started fidgeting with it sulkily. Vera looked at the clock. Only fifteen minutes left. She saw the assistant principal of the English department, Mrs. Hearse, pass by and peer in. “Can I speak to you for a moment, Miss Marcus?” As Vera walked over to the door the students uttered a long, loud “Oooooh,” in unison, as if Vera was a student being called in because


theurgy she was in trouble. She stepped into the hallway and closed the door behind her. “Miss Marcus, these students are not in groups,” began Mrs. Hearse. She was a short woman, near retirement. Some of the teachers had noticed that lately she came to work looking slightly unraveled with her hair disheveled, wearing eyeglasses instead of her contact lenses, not bothering to change her sneakers to the high heels she used to wear daily. “I know,” replied Vera, already armed with her list of reasons. And before the assistant principal could continue Vera spoke, “I don’t even know half of them. How can I group them if they only come half of the time? They don’t know the material. And it’s already hard enough to get through a lesson when they’re seated in rows. When I put them in groups they start talking to each other and I can barely get their attention.” After listening patiently Mrs. Hearse began, “I understand what you’re saying, but they want to see that the students are interacting during lessons and discussing the material. And your bulletin board… it’s non-existent,” she said, and they both glanced into the room at Vera’s bulletin board. There was a small banner that read “Miss Marcus’s 11th Grade Poetry” hanging above a large space covered with bright yellow paper, and beneath it would have been empty save for the stray curses and remarks left by random students. “Go fuck yourself” was still visible from where Vera and Mrs. Hearse were standing. “They don’t hand in homework,” Vera said. “How can I grade their material and put it up there when they don’t produce any?” “Have them work in class,” Mrs. Hearse responded. “But on what, Mrs. Hearse? Look at them in there. They don’t even bring a notebook and a pen,” Vera said. They looked back into the classroom and saw that most of them were now leaning against the windowsill, while the other students were still listening to their headphones or talking on their phones. Suddenly Vera could smell the faint aroma of marijuana coming from the stairwell. “Do you smell that?” Vera asked abruptly. When she first realized that students smoked pot freely in the hallways she jokingly told herself that at least it would keep them docile. She found it odd that she never saw any students smoking pot, but smelled it more frequently than the cigarette smoke that clouded the halls. “Yes, I smell it,” said Mrs. Hearse, and in the same breath, “Well, you have to do something,” she went on. “Don’t forget there’s a Quality Review coming up in two weeks. We’ve had meetings about this already – what they’re looking for, what they want to see…what will happen if they don’t find what they want. They’ll be asking your students, ‘How do you know if you’re passing Miss Marcus’s class? How often does she give tests? How often does she put you in groups?’ I’m only telling you this for your own best interest.”


theurgy “Well, are they just going to focus on what happens inside the classrooms? What about the hallways and the staircases and what goes on there?” Vera tried to counter, and halfway through her sentence Mrs. Hearse had spotted another teacher and walked away to speak to them. Vera knew that a list was made after the Review. A list of names that put teachers not in the Room, but somewhere else that no one knew about. In comparison, a negative Thought Check and being put in the Room for a week seemed like a temporary vacation. In a manner of speaking it was a temporary vacation, since you were unconscious most of the time. Scanning negative meant you’d had bad thoughts, thoughts of malice towards the students or the Department that needed erasing. There were some teachers she knew that used the Eraser, or what was more humbly referred to as liquor, alcohol, booze, but enough of it that it blacked out your thoughts. She knew who those teachers were; they shuffled through the hallways like they shuffled through life, out of touch, catatonic and wanting to keep it that way until they had put in their thirty-five years. And even after that – what was left? It was nine years ago that Vera had decided to become a teacher. She was working as an editorial assistant of a mid-level publishing firm when she realized that she had been there for four years and still hadn’t found her niche in the company. The office work was easy enough, too easy in fact, and one day faxing documents and typing letters became grossly unappealing. Sometimes Vera wished she had started teaching later, because it was after her first two years that the Department of Dread began implementing their changes – Thought Checks – and teaching summer school becoming mandatory, among other things. Had she never known what it was like to have two months of freedom during the summer months it would have been easier. Had she known that once you enlisted with the Department of Dread you had to see your career through until the end she would have never applied. And nobody told her the change was going to happen. Maybe nobody was allowed. After her last class Vera walked to the elevator and saw Sandy the math teacher who Amelia had spoken of earlier. She gave Vera a tired look and tried to smile. When the elevator doors opened a team of students were inside, so compactly pressed in that there was barely any room for Vera and Sandy to stand. “Oh God!” one kid said loudly. “What the fuck? You couldn’t wait for the next elevator?” They all laughed. Sandy stared at the elevator door as it hummed to the first floor. “You aren’t even supposed to be in here,” she said through her clenched teeth. A girl raised her arms in the air and gyrated her body, “I can be as bad as I want!” she screamed in an unnatural high-pitched voice. More laughter. “I don’t understand why any of you are in here,” Vera said to them, trying to turn to look from her cramped position. “You know the elevators are only for teachers.” “And we don’t understand why your lips are still moving when we don’t give a shit,” she heard loudly from the back of the elevator. Shrieking laughter.


theurgy “Why do you bother?” Sandy said as the elevator doors opened. Without waiting for either Vera or Sandy to get out of the elevator, the students pushed through and ran out, almost knocking over the teachers. “Ten more years of this shit and I’ll finally be done,” Sandy said to Vera. “Good night.” “Good night,” Vera said, and as she watched Sandy walk out of the building she wondered about the process of emptying your thoughts again. Compared to Vera, Sandy was a veteran, and maybe, just maybe, it was possible that Sandy had held in too much for too long, that no amount of emptying her thoughts could drain her completely. Amelia had started only a year after Vera, and she too was new enough to unburden herself as Vera did. As she walked towards the exit sign Vera heard a sudden thud coming from down the hallway. Resisting the urge to keep walking she headed towards the sound of the noise as it grew louder. It was probably just a scuffle that she should not bother involving herself with. All the classroom doors were open until she reached the one with its door closed. “You know you can’t do shit, old man, so why bother?” she heard, and looked through the classroom door window. Four boys had surrounded Mr. Montone, one of the science teachers. Vera had heard that he would be retiring in two years. He was standing in the middle of the classroom holding something in his hand that was obscured by the four boys circling him. “I will do it!” the old man growled. His glasses had slipped to the bridge of his nose, his tie had been loosened, and the crop of hair that he combed back now fell in his face. “You are fucking with the wrong guy!” he shouted, and the boys, amused by the old man cursing, chuckled. Without thinking of anything in particular Vera pushed the door open and walked in. “What is all this?” she said. Mr. Montone lowered the object in his hand, and the boys’ attention was diverted long enough that they paused to eye her momentarily as if she were on display. One of the taller ones nudged the others. “Let’s go. This guy’s a fucking freak,” he said. “Yeah, he’s a real bad-ass,” one of the others said, laughing. When they left the room Mr. Montone quickly tucked the object in his hand into his leather bag. “Those sons of bitches!” he said, his voice hoarse and broken. Vera would never ask what he had put away in his bag and she would never find out, but she could guess. The Department of Dread had started administering Thought Checks shortly after what everyone referred to as that “horrible incident”. If one were to tell the curtailed version of what happened, it could be said that on the last day of school Ms. Clemens came to class and shot four of her students with a pistol. One could say she was already crazy and had completely lost her mind. But Vera pictured it differently. Maybe it was because she had seen Ms. Clemens in the library during their breaks. They had the same free period, but they never spoke


theurgy to one another. Instead of planning lessons or grading papers Ms. Clemens read. Sometimes it was only she and Vera in the library and in the beginning Vera fought her natural impulse to be friendly, ask questions even, that would help her navigate through the school year more seamlessly than her first. The woman couldn’t have been much older than Vera – in her late twenties perhaps, and she overheard speculations about her marital status from other teachers in the lunchroom. She was attractive enough, yes, and had a slender figure that she covered modestly with clothes that were slightly over-sized. There was something, Vera observed, that was rather awkward about her when she sat with her colleagues. She chewed her bottom lip nervously, drew her purse closer to her body and spoke so softly that one had to lean in slightly to avoid asking her to repeat herself. In Vera’s mind she struggled with the image that everyone had conjured from their feeble imaginations. It could not be that Ms. Clemens simply walked into her senior English class, pulled out a pistol and fired away at four students. Perhaps it was because Vera had walked passed her classroom while she was teaching that interfered with her own capacity to embellish the scenario as others had. Ms. Clemens had arrived to class with a pistol in her purse, yes. It was the last day of school as well. Seniors who were graduating in two days! Vera pictured two girls leafing through their yearbooks and coming across the faculty page. “Let’s play ugly-pretty,” one girl said. “Okay,” said the other, and they looked up their teacher, who, a target of their daily ridicule, began biting her lip. Nervously, she stood up, aware of the two girls and their private appraisal that was underway. “Can I have everyone’s attention please?” Students ignored her, leaned back in their chairs very much like they did in Vera’s class. She might as well have been trying to sell tofu burgers at a football game. “Hello everyone!” Ms. Clemens clapped her hands for their attention, and although she tried very hard to concentrate she could overhear the girls. “How about Ms. Abari?” “Pretty!” with readiness. “Ms. Cardosi?” “Pretty!” She knew she was next. Two days ago she had self-consciously leafed through the yearbook to see who would overshadow her. And there she was – fatefully placed next to the two most attractive female teachers in the entire school. The students were now talking on their phones, or sharing earphones and listening to music. “Can I have your attention please! Today is the last day of class and I want to say something.” “How about…?” she sensed the first girl motioning to the middle of the room,


theurgy pointing to her with her eyes and then looking down at her yearbook picture. “Ugly!” her friend shrieked. “Yeah! Totally ugly!” her accomplice said. Ms. Clemens was in mid-sentence when she let her chalk fall out of her hand. It hit the floor with a light clinking sound. It wasn’t until she had pulled the pistol out of her purse and shot one of the girls that the students stopped. “Excuse me,” she said loudly, almost shouting. “Can I have your attention please? Today is the last day of class and I had wanted to say something!” Several teachers had already arrived to her classroom, which was locked. All teachers locked their doors now. If not, then one was welcoming the random student to run in and throw something at you or simply walk in and walk around the classroom while you were in the middle of attempting a lesson. Just for fun. “Victoria! Please open the door!” she heard someone from the other side of the door. There was frantic knocking, the violent tugging of the doorknob, and their voices seemed so removed from where she was now. But why, Vera would wonder to herself, why didn’t any of the teachers simply reach for their own keys and unlock the door? There was one key for all the classrooms, unless it was a lab room or the gymnasium. Had they all privately wanted Victoria to continue her rampage, simply trying to create a semblance of intervention? Three more shots. The students sat still in their seats, the other four slumped over their desks, blood leaking like spilt paint in crimson pools. And then the teachers heard the footsteps of Mrs. Hearse, plodding as quickly as she could from around the corner. Suddenly one of them produced a key and unlocked the door. “Here’s to the Quality Review!” “May we all be dragged away and never seen again!” “I wish!” “Yeah, right!” “It was good knowing you!” Vera uncrossed her legs and felt the dull weight of too many drinks hinder her movement. She and Amelia had met the rest of the teachers at a bar to commiserate, not really to drink. It was the evening before the Quality Review, the threat of which had been looming over them for months now. It didn’t help matters that it had been rescheduled three times already, and just as the date approached the teachers would arrive to school only to be told the Reviewers from the Department of Dread would be coming at a later date. More meetings, more preparation, more bulletin boards that needed updating in classrooms where students’ work was to be displayed with the dates clearly posted. “They want to see fresh work. They want to see that you are encouraging your students to write.” Amelia, the less drunk of the two, quickly reached for Vera’s wrist when another shot had been poured for her. “You’re good,” she said. “Let’s walk now. The fresh


theurgy air will do us some good.” They walked arm in arm all the way across town to Vera’s apartment. After helping her up the stairs and settling her on the couch, Amelia started to head out the door and then she heard, “We’re all fucked – you know that, right?” She turned to Vera, who lay prostrate on the couch with her eyes closed. “We are not. Maybe some others are, but not us,” said Amelia. “Even if it goes well for both of us tomorrow, we’re still fucked in the long run,” Vera said. “I come home, I empty my thoughts, but I’m walking on a very delicate edge, my friend. Very delicate…” The next morning there was no line in front of the school building. Not one teacher had scanned negative. It was no wonder, Vera marveled, since almost every teacher she knew had been at the bar last night. As she walked to her classroom she noticed a tall bearded man wearing a gray suit and a striking navy blue tie standing in the middle of the hallway with four other persons dressed similarly. “Who is that?” Vera asked to a random teacher standing next to her. “The guy in the suit? That’s the principal. And the other four are the Quality Reviewers.” None of the teachers or the assistant principals ever saw the principal. Throughout the years she and many of her colleagues joked that the janitor was probably secretly the principal, quietly eavesdropping on conversations and going through teachers’ desks for corroborative evidence. “He looks fantastic!” Vera noted. “I guess he does,” said the other teacher. “Kind of upscale, huh?” The entire building looked fantastic, actually. Vera saw the beautiful display of students’ work on the bulletin boards and wondered if the teachers hadn’t gone home and produced the work themselves and passed it off as their students’. Yet still after the bell there were students in the hallways, like they had been when she was new, and probably more of them now. She stood outside of her door like she did every morning, doing her best to somehow cajole them into her classroom. In the midst of the cigarette smoke, the soccer ball being kicked around, the students sitting Indian-style on the floor playing cards, Vera saw the Reviewers standing in the hallway with the principal, and they looked absurd. The bell had rung and Vera stood in front of the room. “Everyone please take out your notebooks!” she began. The principal and the Quality Reviewers were two doors away. They were walking into every classroom, and within moments they would be walking into hers. There were less students than usual – fifteen, to be exact. Vera took a stack of loose leaf paper, a handful of pens and a pile of books and started distributing them. “Please copy what’s on the board. Today’s ‘aim’ is: ‘What do the characters in


theurgy The Glass Menagerie symbolize?’ And the ‘do now’ is: ‘What external conflicts are Williams’ characters experiencing?’” She felt the chalk in her hand moisten in the grip of her palm. None of them were paying attention. “Please put away your cell phones and headphones,” she said. Like every other day, there was an impenetrable glass wall between herself and the class. She felt as if she were standing on a stage and speaking to an empty auditorium. Suddenly the door opened. Wordlessly, the principal and the Reviewers walked to the back of the classroom quietly observing her. Vera stood in front of the blackboard helplessly. “Please open to page twenty-three,” she said. Not a stir. She dared not look at the back of the room where the five of them stood watching her. Then they looked at one another, and as if reading each other’s thoughts they filed off to the side of the room and left. Vera turned her back to the classroom and muttered to herself, “Fucking hell,” and for the remainder of the period sat behind her desk, the feeling of defeat rising in her throat. After the bell rang Vera sat, watching her students leave, paying her no attention. Again, this was no different than any other day, but it felt different. She heard a knock on the door and seeing that it was Amelia, waved her in. “How did it go?” Amelia asked her. “Terrible,” Vera said. “I didn’t imagine it wouldn’t, but I feel horrible.” “Same here,” said Amelia. “You think the kids would get it together for this one day, but no.” For the first time since Vera met her, Amelia looked grim. “What the hell do they care anyway?” she added. “I mean, I wonder if they know that our asses are on the line, and if they do – maybe they don’t care that because of them we are going to be in big trouble.” Just as she finished her sentence she looked out of the window in wonderment. “What is it?” Vera asked, turning to look. “Is that smoke coming out of one of the rooms?” Amelia said. “Where?” Across the other side of the building there was thick black smoke drifting out of an open window. The two stood watching and then saw a dark figure in the room moving so frantically that they could not identify the person. “It’s probably one of the kids trying to concoct another explosion. Remember last year when that kid hid in one of the labs–” “That is one of the labs!” Vera said. “What the hell is going on?” And it was then that the person spotted them and stopped for a moment. The person opened the window and stuck his head out. “You ladies should probably leave!” he said, trying to keep his voice low, and when she saw that his eyeglasses had slipped to the bridge of his nose Vera realized


theurgy that it was Mr. Montone. Amelia ran to the window. “What happened?” she called out. “Don’t worry about it, my dear. Just grab your friend there and get the hell out of the building. Don’t bother telling anyone else unless you care to see them again. And if you’re going to do it, do it now and do it quietly!” He firmly pushed down the window, and from what Vera and Amelia saw it seemed he had left the room. The two women slowly walked out of the room and passed the teacher’s lounge where their colleagues were sitting. “Would anyone like to come out for a quick coffee break?” Vera asked, trying to sound casual. “We have about fifteen minutes left,” one of them said. “That’s enough time,” Amelia told them, and immediately the two walked out of the back exit of the building towards the football field. They didn’t look to see if anyone had followed them. At first the sound was like firecrackers. It made Vera remember when she was a child, how her parents had forbidden her to light firecrackers for Fourth of July. She remembered relishing the sound of the distant patter from a neighbor’s yard. And now the sound deepened, the loud booms vibrating the turf as they ran off as far as they could. For a moment Vera stopped and turned around, watching the scene as if she were in some outlandish movie. The thick smoke had magically erupted into a fire, and almost every window of the school building was raging in flames. They could hear screaming and the high-pitched wail of the emergency alarms. “Do you think if we went home and gathered our things and left they would find us?” Amelia asked as they were half-running. “Who cares?” she said, her words coming out in gasps. “Who cares how we disappeared – to them, anyway?” As far as Vera was concerned, they would go home and disappear in their own way, glad to not have the smell of soot and smoke lingering on their bodies.



The Place Beyond Poetry Carly Holmes he thing unfurled a wing. Once feathered and fine as a kingfisher, it was T now drab and dull as a bat. It lifted its head to watch her as she moved around the room. It didn’t make a sound. She gathered papers up into her arms and put them back down, shifting constantly between desk and bookcase. And then she walked over to the ornate birdcage and slapped the side, so that it jittered and strained on its chain. “Wake up! You’ve got work to do. I’ve lost what I wrote for tonight’s meeting.” She pressed her face to the bars, eyes bulging slightly as they searched the dirty floor of the cage for the tiny, dirty body lying there. “Get yourself ready. I’m going to be late.” She slapped the cage again, forcing vibrations down to its base. The thing inside shook and shuddered. It unwrapped itself and rose to its feet. It opened its mouth and screamed. She was waiting with shiny greed, face taut with disgust, as it screamed and suffered. She tapped her foot and then her watch as it flung itself around inside its cage. Its wings blackened, the tips started to smoke as it arched its back and dropped to its knees. It convulsed once, twice, and then spat a pellet of glistening beauty. She thrust her fingers between the bars, scrabbling with furious concentration, and then tried to force her hand through. The pellet rolled slightly, its glow dimming, and she cursed and withdrew. The thing remained crouched, folded over itself like a puppet abandoned on an empty stage. She risked unhooking the door, reached in and captured the pellet. She swallowed it whole, grimaced, moved to the desk to take a drink of water, and then splashed a little into the dry saucer in the cage. “There you go, have a drinky-poo, and don’t say I don’t spoil you!” She watched as the thing shivered across to the saucer and drank. She smiled as it dipped the tips of its wings into the remaining drops, and shouted laughter as the heat hissed from them and the thing sighed its relief. “Thirsty work. Here, have a bit more.” The pellet dissolved in her chest and emptied its words into her as she was pouring. She gasped and jerked, spilling water across the floor of the cage. “The finest…Oh, they’re beautiful!” She secured the cage door and stumbled slightly, covering her face. When she looked up again the thing drooped and turned away, its eyes crumpled shut against


theurgy her transformation. Rapture caressed the edges of her sourness, stealing away the creases of age and bitter waste. Lighting her up so that she bloomed and glittered. “Oh, thank you, thank you! So exquisite…” Her fist was pawing the air, writing blind words with invisible ink. “Paper! I need pen and paper!” She lurched for her desk, for the means to capture her borrowed radiance before it shrivelled inside her. The thing curled up once more on the dirty floor and mewed out a faint, dark cloud of pain and loss, which lingered above its head for a moment as if reluctant or divided, and then floated up to bump and jostle the other clouds collected thickly at the apex of the cage. The creature lay and listened for a while to the sounds offered by the wider world; the faint hum of the earth shifting, the crackle of the wind stirring leaves and grass, the scrape and sigh of spiders spinning their webs. And then it tried to sleep, and in dreams return to that world. When she came home she was grumpy and sore, hollowed out by her psychic hangover. The thing was unconscious and didn’t stir when she slammed the door behind her, heaved her bag onto the table, and threw herself into a chair. It didn’t stir when she flung herself out of the room to make coffee and find painkillers and then shambled back in again. She gave the cage a spiteful shove on her way past and then sat and sorted through the papers on her desk, muttering and mumbling, occasionally exclaiming as a line caught her attention. The painkillers and her achievement combined to lift her mood, and she eventually raised herself to peep into the cage and prod at the thing. “Come on, you lazy little imp or fairy or whatever you are. While you’ve been slumbering away I’ve been hard at work. Want to hear about it?” She prodded again. “Wake up, do you hear me?” She unfastened the door of the cage and lifted the thing up between forefinger and thumb. Her nails snagged and tore the brittle skin of those once glorious wings, now too dull to even decorate, too forever-damaged to fly. Impotent appendages that mocked even as they clung determinedly to its back, fused there by bone and nerve. “Are you okay? Wake up! I need you!” She dropped it in panic, picked it up again and shook it. It opened its eyes and stared past her with blurred, still half dreaming hope, soaring with its mind up to the ceiling, around the room, out of the window. And then it awoke fully and focused, and the vision fled. It opened its mouth and let out a cracked, thin thread of a cry. “Jesus, you had me worried there! I thought you’d gone and died on me. Do you want some more water?”


theurgy She bustled with selfish solicitude to refill the saucer and added a spoonful of sugar. “There. Drink that up, it should give you some energy.” She watched as it tried to pull itself upright, tutting at its struggle. “You look like I feel! These after effects, hangovers, whatever you want to call them, they’re getting worse each time.” The chair wheezed as she dropped heavily back into it. She started tugging at her hair; quick little tugs that pulled her head over to the side in a steady rhythmic twitch. “Yes, they are getting worse. Are you poisoning me? Is that what’s happening? I never got headaches before I found you. And the good bit, the creative bit, that’s getting shorter now. I had to leave the writing group early because I could feel it all slipping away from me, all my beautiful words, my sparkle, my pages and pages of prose, all leaving me.” Her hands left her hair, travelled to tonight’s notebook, and stroked the cover, seeking comfort. “But my words…they’re worth it. It’s worth any kind of suffering to write those words. No one can take them from me. No one can take the praise. Those looks of envy and hatred I get every week. I should have enough words soon to fill a book, provided I can keep you alive long enough. Then I’ll be immortalised and it won’t matter even if you are poisoning me. Even if I die. I’ll exist forever through my writing.” The thing had managed to raise itself onto its knees, and it swayed there as she spoke. It knew how this would end. Her headache was returning, and her temper clung to its coat tails. She got up from the chair and faced the thing, standing with her feet wide apart and her mouth screwed in on itself like a poisoned rosebud. Desperate to poke and bruise. Desperate to dismantle the thing’s dignity and take a little back for herself. “Look at the state of you! You were a beautiful creature when I first caught you. You took my breath away. Now all you can do is drag yourself around and cough up those disgusting little parcels. My parcels. My words. I’ve always had them in me, you just set them free. I don’t even need you anymore, I can do this by myself. All you do is stink the place out and try to make me feel bad with your PATHETIC. UGLY. WHINING!” She was pressed up to the cage now, fists rigid on either side of it and thumping in time to her words. She filled the thing’s world entirely with her swollen rage and her blinking eyes. She was everything, from its immediate space to its far horizon. She was its god. “I want another one of those word parcels now! I want my words back! And you are going to give them to me!” Reality was elongating before her eyes, popping and bubbling behind them.


theurgy Anger and fear kept her upright when she should have fallen down. “Come on, you heard me! Cough up another one of those slimy little pellets and hand it over, you ugly little thing. Do it now!” She thrust her hand up against the bars, palm flat – feed me – so that even if language defeated it, the thing would understand what she required. It felt the end coming and looked up at the black clouds that covered the top of its cage. This permanent stormy sky that blanketed its now and always world. And then it dropped its head, arched its back, and tried its hardest to give her what she wanted. She thought at first that the thing would surely die before it produced anything worthwhile. Its little body convulsed and bucked as it sought to create and give up another piece of its soul to satisfy her greed. She whooped and jeered, every second believing it to be in its death throes, every other second willing it to be alive. She swirled and dipped in front of the cage, and clapped her hands in delight and terror. “Come on, you can do it! That’s the way! Cough it up. Give me another one!” And then it managed to deliver a final parcel, its final gift, and the effort broke its heart. This pellet, unlike the others, throbbed and pulsed as it rolled around the floor of the cage. Its fragile shell struggled to contain the bulging fountain of colours. She crowed with triumph and clawed at it, shovelling it into her mouth. Lips stretched in jubilation, tongue flickering with need, she swallowed and turned away from the thing’s twitching form. This pellet, unlike the others, split itself open with malicious speed, tearing into her throat and haemorrhaging down through her body. It dived into her blood and played tag around and around her spine before she had a chance to steady her breath. She jerked and turned back to the cage, and the thing saw her fear. “Oh my god. What is this? These words! So rough!” She hunched forward, snapped back, thrust fingers into her mouth. The thing’s tired eyes closed and opened a few times more, and it held onto life so that it could watch her final dance. “So coarse! These ugly words…I can’t write these ugly words!” Her fists pumped the air, tried not to scrawl blind words with invisible ink. Tried not to allow her to her desk, to her pens and her paper. She held the thing’s gaze for as long as she could. It shut its eyes for the last time and she was left alone to write, with nothing but the stain running through her of that place beyond poetry.



Bedroom Eyes David Gill er eyes were like stars, and my gaze crossed that great distance across H the auditorium like one of the big interstellar sailing ships that spends years in the black abyss between systems. After the light beams made the round trip between us, I realized she had caught me looking at her. My face flushed, hot with a sudden rush of blood, and I immediately dropped my gaze to the notes on my tablet in front of me. Everything else in the room faded, and as a result, in my mind, her unearthly beauty lit up the rundown and nondescript classroom in the late afternoon of Dr. Woolsey’s Fitzgerald seminar. I sat behind her, two dozen rows back and on the far side of the cavernous auditorium and could only see her face when she turned to one side. Though I could admire the straightness of her back as well as the soft set of her shoulders whenever I chose, there was a kind of sacred anticipation for those moments when she would turn, usually to look at the only clock in the auditorium mounted above a large set of doors. When I couldn’t see her face, I would try to picture the graceful way her eyebrows arched or the precise shape of her lips, try to anticipate exactly how she would, again, come into view. I tried to imagine the expression I would find, the exact set of her mouth, the way her eyes would be lit up, but I could never do it. She always confounded my expectations. Every time I thought I knew what it was about her that I found so beautiful, I would lose that detail in some other perfection. One day, while Professor Woolsey was lost in a long digression about Zelda, she and I exchanged long stares. I spent the morning before class, my stomach knotted and cramping, while I attempted, methodically, to convince myself to try and flirt with her. I kept wondering what she thought of me, the skinny creeper who sat three rows behind her. I thought once or twice that morning that I was experiencing heart palpitations, or suffering the early stages of a coronary event. I felt the rubbery muscle in my chest thudding, creating tidal surges of blood. As my elation over our eye contact began to grow, I sensed that I was going to need to use the bathroom. I took a few minutes to inquire of my body the level of urgency involved, and determined that I could wait until class was over, but not much longer. And so I was understandably both distressed and elated when she tapped me on my shoulder on my way out of class. “Hi, I’m Sarah,” she said, after I turned. We shook. My arms felt like they were a thousand miles long. “I’m Steve,” I managed. I could feel my heart in my chest, beating, the blood


theurgy rushing in my ears and my stomach holding itself together through the sheer force of my will, the strength of which surprised even me. She asked, “Do you get this book, like, at all?” Her brows were furrowed as she looked up at me. “Not so… highly,” I said, mangling even this simple three word sentence. Sarah raised one eyebrow and looked at me suspiciously. “I mean, I can do research...” I offered as way of recovery. She continued, undaunted, “I’m afraid I’m going to fail. Come over to my place and help me study!’ She looked at me, and I was amazed how casually she could throw out an invitation like that. Her request was so innocent and straightforward; I didn’t have the first clue how to answer her. “Uh, where do you live?” I managed to ask. She took out her phone and flicked me her information. I made it to the bathroom in the nick of time. She lived in the dorms, but at the top of the campus, up the hill from where I lived with the students from less-advantaged demographic pools. The difference in lifestyle was dramatic. The lobby of Sara’s dorm had a glass door that opened into a small foyer. I buzzed her place. A camera above the door recorded my face. A voice answered. “Hello?” Through the small speaker set next to the door, it was impossible to identify her voice. In fact it didn’t sound human at all. I had been pretty calm up to that point, reminding myself she had invited me over, but this metallic voice was too much and I started to get really nervous. “It’s Steven,” I said, too loudly. I could feel my stomach begin to twist and turn over on itself. The door made a buzzing noise and I heard the mechanism unlock, but I had to push with all my weight to get it over a high spot on the other side. The lobby was quite nice, done up with marble floors and wooden banisters. The old world craftsmanship smelled good, of curries and cinnamon. The elevator was broken, so I climbed five flights of thickly carpeted stairs trying not to break a sweat or get winded. I watched from a nearly uncrossable distance as my hand reached out and tapped lightly on the door. After an interminable moment, Sara opened the door. She had her blond hair up and she was clad in tight-fitting exercise clothes that pulsated with bright pastel colors. “Oh... come on in,” she said, and she sounded, at least to my nervous ears, a little surprised. “‘Oh?’ Were you expecting someone else?” I responded snidely, realizing about two words into the sentence that it was a stupid remark, but I could not alter its course once it had escaped my lips.


theurgy She said with a laugh, “No, I knew it was you, kind of a stupid thing to say. It’s just like a shock, or whatever, suddenly you’re there – at the door.” She said it with an emphatic hand gesture, as if she were shaking water off her hands. Her voice was high and breathy like a clarinet. Her apartment was clean, spartan: no furniture in the living room, hardwood floors, well-lit rooms. The kitchen was loud and brightly lit and Sara’s friends were there. I recognized some of their faces. Cool drones played in the background. Sara asked, “Do you want anything to drink?” I responded, “Do you have 7Up?” “Just beer and wine and water,” she said with a smile. I thought I saw her exchange a look with her friends. “Nothing then,” I said, completely aware of how my rather childish dislike of alcohol had just branded me as hopelessly uncool. “Come on, let’s study,” she said loudly. Her room was lit by a desk lamp, and a small window looked out over the campus through which the other students milling about, three stories below, looked like ants. She sat on her bed, and after looking out the window for a time, I went over and joined her. She moved closer to me and pulled out her copy of the book, her hair tickling my shoulders. Her mood pants pulsed with subtle but colorful rhythms. I opened my worn copy of the old Fitzgerald paperback and, after a time, we both found ourselves reading a passage someone had long ago highlighted, and which I had marked with an exclamation point: “‘But Amory, being on the spot, leaned over quickly and kissed Myra’s cheek. He had never kissed a girl before, and he tasted his lips curiously, as if he had munched some new fruit. Then their lips brushed like young wild flowers in the wind.’” Like a predatory cat, Sara pounced. Pushing my copy of the book to the bed, she brought my face to hers and kissed me. We kissed sitting on the bed until the wrist on the hand I was using to support my weight began to grow numb. After she pulled me down on the bed, she rustled around in her nightstand drawer. She said “Close your eyes.” I did. “OK, you can open them.” When I opened my eyes, there in her hands, were the lenses. I had seen the ads: on my wallscreen and in the subway station and on the billboard that overlooked the valley of ashes north of the school. Bedroom Eyes, the latest sex-tech: contact lenses that fit over the eyes and responded to body heat, lighting up an eerie green as the user became aroused. Before I could say anything, she was putting them in her eyes. After an awkward moment during which she struggled to get a portion of the lenses under her eyelid, she stared at me with the dull, alien-looking pads covering her eyes. They were kind of a turn off, these weird rubbery eyes staring at me. I


theurgy kept flashing on The Creature From the Black Lagoon, which we had watched in our ‘Monsters of the Id’ seminar. I’m pretty sure Sara was in that class too. I lay there, almost motionless, frankly a little afraid to make a move, but Sara was a skilled hunter. The lenses began to glow a dull green. And as Sara lay on top of me, I could feel her breath pulling me out of my body; our breathing began to speed up and the lenses glowed more brightly. I guess they work, I thought to myself. I kissed her, my lips on hers. At this, Sara’s eyes, now brighter, splashed a gentle green light on the white walls. The eerie light pulsed, rhythmically, languid and sultry; the room around us seemed to light up, until the air itself pulsed and throbbed in time to our breath, which had quickened further. I touched her, gently caressing her with my open palm, and the lenses glowed even more brightly, like a cat whose eyes reflected the flash in an old film photograph. She was above me; her hair had come down, the elastic band lost somewhere in the bed. Her hair framed her face and the Bedroom Eyes shone brightly, an ethereal radiance, but there was something predatory too, a primal hunt for satisfaction, a desperate search for satiation of want. She was like a tiger. I could feel that moment in Sara, when she began to pursue, through me, the most ecstatic pleasure. She surged towards it and her eyes glowed so brightly that even after I closed my own, I could still see the light moving above me. Sara pushed against me hard and the light fluttered. She collapsed on top of me and then rolled over, and we were both on our backs and her fading glow lit up the bedroom, fading both in intensity and in the way it seemed to throb, to pulse, until it was just a pale green glow not particularly flattering to the human form. And for a moment our tangled bodies looked almost reptilian. Panting, I asked, “Uh, can you take those off?” “Aren’t they the coolest?” she said, panting. “They kinda give me the creeps.” I said looking down. “Seems like you were paying attention. Did you have the creeps then?” Suddenly I could hear a tone in her voice, almost like an angry parent, scolding. “Kinda.” And I could hear it in my voice, a palpable sense of inadequacy that seemed to irritate us both. “Christ, why?” she asked, angrier. I turned and looked at the wall, white and uninteresting, with scuffs and scrapes and dents clearly visible now that the light show had ended. “I don’t really want to talk about it,” I said. “Can you just take them off?” She did, and she looked at me, making eye contact, and she said, “Next time I won’t wear them, but you’ll have quite a performance to repeat...unassisted.” We lay together, touching, for quite some time. Neither of us said a word; I might even have drifted off to sleep. After a time, Sara said, “I hate to say this but, could you go?”


theurgy I looked at her. She looked at her hands as she held the finger of one in the closed fist of the other. “It’s not really a big deal. My boyfriend has practice tonight, and he usually goes to his house after, but he’s got a key.” I was dumbstruck. Not knowing what to say, I simply stared at her in disbelief. “It’s no big deal, if you go, but he does get jealous. He’s a prude. What can I say?” Again, it was the straightforward honesty in her remarks that made me unable to respond. I got up from the bed and collected my clothes from the communal pile on the floor. Sara scrunched up her nose and asked, “Are you mad?” I actually didn’t mind leaving. I said, “I have to get up in the morning anyway, and study for Woolsey’s test.” “Oh yeah, right,” she said. “Yessir,” I said with a smile as I pulled a t-shirt over my head. She just lay in bed, not getting up, or getting dressed. I opened the bedroom door, hoping her roommates had gone to bed, while she headed to the bathroom and ran a shower. Just as I was getting my bike and heading towards the apartment’s front door, another bedroom door opened and one of Sara’s friends said with a laugh, “See you later.” Outside, I got on my bike and began to ride. I stopped about halfway down the campus on a rise that afforded a great view of the city. The Bedroom Eyes billboard rose up 60 feet and took up my entire field of perception. The picture was of Hyacinth, a mysterious Immersion star and current ‘it’ girl among the teledildonics crowd who everyone wanted to either do or be. That glow that emanated from the lenses washed over the entire city. The city pulsed to that eerie green glow, which lit up the sides of apartment buildings with their nests of windows, and steel-sided warehouses, and old storefronts which were closed, where the lights had gone out already, and on bars and street corners where people still swarmed even at this late hour. And that light, which in its illumination was like a great maw preparing to devour everything, that light, for a moment, struck me as oblivion itself.



Post-Oz, Circa Hollywood Forrest Aguirre o one saw this one coming. Not even Freddie, and he had smoked enough N weed to make anyone permanently paranoid. Said he had been abducted by aliens, twice. He could show you every illuminati-sponsored conspiracy imaginable with the bills in your wallet, folding them to show the collapse of the twin towers, the man on the grassy knoll, and the flight trajectory of the flying saucers that came by, too late, to pick up the Heaven’s Gate cultists. I was eight frames on my way to a 300, sucking down some cold ones and getting cold stares from the other teams. That night, rather than shouting “monkey boy” at us, they were mumbling and swearing like a pack of hungry hyenas baying in the night. We were flying high; well, at least Earl was until someone, Dirk I think, grabbed his foot and brought him down behind the ball racks. A bunch of kids had to scatter to let him land, over-greased fries and stale ketchup everywhere. “Stupid apes,” one of them said. Earl flapped his wings and scared them off. Yeah, I suppose we were being a little rowdy, but no one was flinging poo yet. This was nothing like the old days, when the Wicked Witch of the West was in charge. That was like being in a union with no dues. Our jobs were protected and we were living la vida loca until that little girl in the red slippers came along. Some looked back on those as the glory days. But not my crew. We left all that behind, what, 70 years ago? Gave up the halberds and the mohawks and took up work as set designers and yellow-brickroad layers as soon as those oompa-loompas or munchkins or whatever they called themselves took off for the circus or some second-rate acting job. Schmuks. They had no idea what it meant to work, to really labor. We were there to fill the gap when they abandon the hills. I heard that some of them were worried about us coming back to work for the men-behind-the-curtain, that the whole Dorothy thing left a bad taste in their collective little mouth. Hey, it was a job. You do what you have to do, you know? We were over that. We even celebrated the end of our past lives by buying some red fezzes with embroidered monkey skulls on the front. This was sort of our way of saying that we had moved on to a new life. The past was dead and gone as far as we were concerned. Then it came back to haunt us. Like I said, Freddie was in the loo puking, Earl and Dirk were laughing at the fleeing teenagers, and I had just bowled my eighth strike in a row. The other guys were high-fiving me when the feds stormed the place. The teenagers were the first to get plowed into by the guys in the black suits,


theurgy but these pigs weren’t after underage drinkers. They wanted us. After trampling the kids, these gorillas – is that really the term I want to use? – these goons made straight for us, breaking every rule of bowling alley etiquette and assuring us that our team would win. The other bowlers fell into the lanes and over ball-return machines to the rumble of gutter balls and stampeding feet. Unfortunately, we wouldn’t be around to celebrate. All of us except Earl gave up without a fight, though we didn’t go quietly. Earl flung poo until they tasered him, which brought on the return of his mohawk, while the rest of us held our fire and launched verbal volleys instead. One of the goons grabbed me by the collar of my bowling shirt and yanked hard. I could hear a seam rip somewhere. “Hey, careful!” “You’re under arrest.” “For what?” “We’ll explain later.” “Does this have to do with the whole Dorothy thing?” It was all I could think of. “We’ll explain later.” “Hey, that was a long time ago. We’re good upstanding citizens now. I pay taxes!” I had the goon’s attention. At least he let his grasp slacken a bit. “See? Take a look at our shirts. What do they say on the back?” “Ded M…Mun… M…How do you even pronounce that?” “Dead Monkeys. Monkeys. D-E-D M-U-N-Q-U-E-E-Z. Dead Monkeys. We’re not the bad guys anymore. Those guys are dead to us.” “Is that Arabic?” His grip tightened again. “Arabic?” He turned to a companion. “Probably Al Qaeda. Cuff him.” We arrived at the station and were informed that we could make one phone call. I thought about calling a lawyer, but, hey, we were union. They’d take care of that side of things. They always did. What did we pay dues for, anyway? So, trusting my legal self to The Local, I called my girlfriend, Sylvie. We’d had our ups and downs, but I felt a responsibility to call her and let her know what happened and where we were, so she wouldn’t stay up all night worrying. “You’re where?” she screeched. Whoever was tapping the phone probably went temporarily deaf. “Listen, it’ll be fine. Just some misunderstanding.” “Oh, I’m understanding. You and your rowdy friends got into a bowling alley brawl, didn’t you?” “No, I…Look, I just wanted to call and let you know where I am. It’ll be alright.


theurgy Like I said, probably just a misunderstanding.” “Your misunderstanding made the news. And understand this, mister. You might as well stay there because by the time you get out, I’ll be gone.” “Yeah? Where you gonna go? Back to your mommy?” “No, Ralph. I’ve got something more permanent in mind. I’m moving in with Billy.” “Billy? That guys a baboon!” “You don’t see what I see in Billy.” “I’m serious, Sylvie: he’s a baboon. Literally. A mandrill. The guy’s face looks like the stars and stripes, for cryin’ out loud.” “I’ve made up my mind. I’m moving in with Billy.” “But he’s a different species. You’re not even compatible…down there.” “What would you know about compatibility?” Definitely time to hang up. Not that I had any choice. The warden did it for me. “Time’s up, monkey boy. Back in your cage.” I never did understand why people liked the Good Witch of the North. The woman’s a ditz and, frankly, not that good looking. I don’t want to know how she got into Hollywood movies, but I would like to know how she passed the bar exam. They’ll give anyone a degree nowadays. “Ruffians,” she called us in her sing-song voice. “Real hoodlums. Look at their hats, for example.” The jury, entranced, turned toward us in unison. “Note the self-loathing monkey skull motif on their hats; hats that carry a long association with… Islam!” The jury gasped. She then proceeded to sweet talk the jury into hating us before outlining our supposed crimes. “War crimes against the Munchkins, kidnapping a young girl, grievous bodily harm to Mister Scarecrow, theft of the Tin Man’s axe, molestation of a household pet...” “What?” “How do I put this gently?” She feigned innocence, putting a thoughtful finger to her chin. “I don’t think I can…“ “I just picked up the dog. I was following orders.” “You buggered poor Toto!” “That is outrageous!” I shouted, then said, under my breath, “He probably would have liked it anyway.” “I heard that,” she sang. “The angle on the footage bears out my argument. I only


theurgy wish he was around to tell his side of the story.” And therein her case was lost. The potential witnesses had all died, dried out and blown away, or been riveted to the side of a pickup somewhere in rural Kansas. The lion was alive, but he was in hiding somewhere in the Caribbean, counting his money and evading taxes. Amazing what a public defense attorney can dig up. The jury also grew tired of Glinda’s long, pedantic speeches and condescending manner. She was as haughty and boring as she had been back when and her mannerisms didn’t sit well with our jurors. I still can’t get the ringing out of my ears from her incessant whining. After two days of lighthearted browbeating by this bimbo, we were acquitted. Glinda flew off in a huff and we were free. I took it as my chance to escape not only from custody, but from California itself. I had had enough of glitz and glam and traffic jam. I needed to be somewhere where people were more real, where masks and facades fall off and what you see is what you get. So I’m heading off for Milwaukee, land of beer, brats, Laverne and Shirley. Yeah, I should blend right in there, no problem!



Intergalactic Dating Service John Grey He’s reading the hairs on the back of your hand, dissecting your toes, peering deep into your navel. Are you in there? he asks the scar on your knee. He pours through your hair for insight, scans up and down your back for some clue to the brain. There’s a language barrier often a thousand light years. You can’t imagine what he thinks of those sounds spewing from your mouth. It’s your first time with an alien. It’s his with an earthling. He’s pushing and pulling, squeezing and yanking. Sex could happen. But then again, so could dentistry.



The First Man On This Planet John Grey All of the moons are still objects overhead, not concepts. This rock was never tapped for simile. The hard parched earth could pantomime a billion lifetimes of failed dreams, gutted hopes, but for now its just a dull, soft echo for the finger-tapping of my curiosity. No myths attach themselves to blinding sun, no religions camp beneath these ploughshare stars. All that happens here is wind moves nothingness about, or streaks of fire blaze across the birdless sky, end abruptly, pointlessly, like verses without chorus. I have memories bigger than this planet. Each of my footsteps is ten million years of its history.



Night Fugue John Grey Capricorn shines stigmata on dwarf magnolia. Obsessions in unison vibrate in spider eyes Wind tunes hell’s orchestra. Night whispers, “Evil to him who thinks evil of it,” and a bell clangs its loud, echoing autobiography of red-eyed strangers on the back stairs of the nerves. Moonlight crashes on the window Outside forms high priestess cloud formations, crescent head-dresses of shine, tree-limb shudders designate degrees of initiation, and jarring knocks slide between heart-beats. Random thoughts like scourge, censor, athame, wand, pentacle, are arranged on altars of the brain, that sloshing neurological chalice I give my soul to the noises dark makes, to creatures who grind it like glass, whip it with brushwood, sieve it through nets, freeze it, scorch it, damn it What’s left, I surrender to ghosts. those tormented human reminders. Stripped of meaning, the world turns on a restless lathe Moments are shaped like monsters. Reality is shaved beyond the skin Dreams are deep, bloody cuts Rusty needles of fear scour the flipside of time for a tune that my witch-cold tongue can hum.



The Acolyte Ken Poyner last Jesus went through here about a month ago.” TheJason propped his foot on the table runner and stared at the two men

through the last quarter of his eyes. They had no reason to lie. “I understand there are converts living on the maintenance decks. Some gave up a life alongside the hydroponics crystals, put their money into the station lottery fund. I heard the rumors, but I did not think anyone would be that stupid. But I have seen it.” This man was obviously a maintenance worker, pulling a two year stint perhaps on this outlying station so that he could go home with a pension he could not, in his dreams, outlive: one that would give him a fighting chance at a lower-middle class, bearable existence. Lying would not seem worth it to him. “No one knows which way he went when he shipped out. Station authorities were about to set aside the religion protocols to go after him, due to all the commotion he was causing. Before they could issue a summons, fsst, he was gone.” And gone a month before Jason got here. All of his warrants, all of his letters of inquiry, were no good if he could not catch a Jesus in the flesh. Closest he had come was a mining camp on the gravity smash made of an asteroid belt in C34A9. He had landed during an off-load shoot of extracted ores, ignoring the safety laws and sitting down between timed bursts. Even with all of the activity associated with sending the extracted ore on its way to someplace useful, this Jesus had gathered a goodly crowd in one of the auxiliary dining facilities and was about to do the standard bit of feeding the many with only the scraps that were left by the few. A third of the outpost staff had gathered: half out of curiosity, half about ready to buy into the belief. Jason had double checked and he had authorization from the intergalactic company licensed to maintain the camp to go after any thing or any one who might interfere with profitability. He came in through a service air lock after overhanding himself all the way to the lock in an environmental suit from his landing just inside the artificial gravity, but outside of the atmosphere. But he must have crossed a view station he did not have on his copy of the station schematics. When he got into the main hall, the crowd was looking for him: half to protect the newest object of their affection, half to protect the newest source of their entertainment. As he was sizing up the crowd and the crowd was sizing up him – all politics and religion and a belief in charges for any damage – the Jesus went out through the chow line service vents and got a broad enough lead that he made it to his needle thin ship, gained high orbit, and flicked into star drive long before Jason could clear


theurgy the discontinuity-well formed by the station. And there was no way of knowing what counter-dimension the Jesus was set to and where he could come out. How many Jesuses he had chased Jason had no idea. Maybe each was different. Maybe he had chased the same quarter dozen Jesuses eight or ten times each. Maybe he had been chasing the one and only. Who could know? All he knew was that he was paid to chase, and would get a bonus if he ever captured one. Getting close was keeping him on the payroll, but it could not keep him there forever. He had to come back with one eventually, or it would be back to a life of checking loading cylinders against paperwork and getting vacation money on the side for now and again double counting a cylinder. “I hear this one was saying he could raise the dead, and quite a few of the gullible out here were interested in seeing that.” Jason could see the hard core of this worker had gone soft in anticipation, and the man would not have needed much of a show to slip into belief. You see that more and more these days, with longer and longer off-world tours and the trend for lighter pensions and fewer worlds to go back to. Even people born off-world, in the stations or on the outposts, caught the belief disease. The Jesuses scratched an itch. And no matter how many Jason and his like chased off or tracked down, scratching that itch would feel good to crowds made of the unenlightened and unentitled many. With little more than a chance to own dust, making a virtue of poverty and waiting for the next life to spit on your bosses seems, in some twisted way, like an option. Jason could not go after the new believers in the maintenance deck. That would violate religious protocols. But he could tell management what he had found, and then slip a message to corporate headquarters on a private burster channel. Corporate and management could find loose, gravel-brained men who were proud of their work: hard men, who would go back home one day and be glad to squander their pensions in regal poverty. Men who had something to prove, who could fold a grudge into a club and be no more specific than a meteor shower about where they pointed their anger. That could scratch an itch, too. Jason turned off his hidden recorder. “You have had enough nonsense for a while. Drinks for everyone!” Jason could see the disappointment in the eyes of the two men who had fed him his information. They had thought only they would be getting drinks. These Jesuses. One day Jason was going to have to look up what they were saying, fathom what angle they were playing to make themselves so persistent. Knowledge might be the edge he needed. Know the belief, predict the next appearance. Know the belief, own the believers. He had to get one soon, or maybe it would be he who was making a life by selling a future. Better than checking loading cylinders.



Epitaph For Amy Lucy Cooper is Amy, and I want out. My name It’s only a matter of time now.

So, this is Ex-Com. I look around the room and I feel that I am seeing things for the first time as they really are. The desk is content to be a desk. The chair: whole and complete in and of itself. I do not know nor do I care to know which of my Friends Likes the chair. I do not know nor care which of my Friends Likes this sofa I am sitting on. I feel its squishiness sinking under my weight. I feel the softness of the cushion on my back. I like this sofa, but I do not feel the need to Share this sensation. For once I do not have to. There are footsteps in the corridor. It’s not the oppressive stomp of jackboots, nor the quiet clinical pad of white-coated doctors. There are no men in black suits and dark glasses. No Lizard People. They are the stuff of conspiracy theories. That’s not The Community’s style. No, it’s the casual squeak of trainers that echoes down the corridor. The door handle turns. For a moment, he is silhouetted there in the doorway. The light from the corridor forms a corona around the resolutely shaggy mess of hair. He strides into the room, activating the motion sensor. I have been still for so long the lights have gone out. Brightness eats into every surface leaving no vestige of shade. “Amy, hi!” He’s smiling, of course. He bounces down onto the white sofa opposite me. He wears the standard uniform; crumpled t-shirt and blue jeans. He extends his right arm along the back of the sofa, rests his right ankle on his left thigh. “So.” The fingers of his right hand drum out a rhythm. Still smiling. “What has brought you to Ex-Com, Amy?” There’s only one reason you end up in Ex-Com: thought or behaviour that is not conducive to the good of The Community. Ex-com is a purgatory, a waiting room where you are cut off temporarily from the umbilical cord of the information stream. The Community views Ex-Com as a punishment. To me it comes as blessed relief. To be disconnected, Offline, is what I crave. A pause in the incessant clamour of data that is streamed into my consciousness: piped infotainment, Updates, Likes. He cradles his chin between his thumb and finger, leans forward. “Sooo.” He sucks his teeth, taps the low, glass-topped coffee table between us. The


theurgy screen comes on. “Let’s have a look...” He runs a finger along the length of the table, sending the words scrolling across the screen. The words dance as though they have a life of their own. They do: my life. Every Conversation I’ve ever had, every Update I’ve made, everything I have Liked, everything I have Shared, Tagged or Commented on is there in a green swirl of data. He swats a finger onto the screen and the text becomes still. “August 1, 21:59,” he reads. “Friend Request, ignored.” He glances up, eyebrow half raised. “August 1, 22:03, Friend Request, ignored.” His finger hovers over the screen. Then pokes, scrolls, halts, hovers. A reflex set of actions. “Friend Requests repeatedly ignored.” Poke, scroll, halt. “You’ve been falling short of your daily quota of Likes, Shares, Comments for…” poke, scroll. “…three months.” He continues reeling off a miscellany of dates and times. The ream of text appears infinite, and yet it amounts to nothing. Is this what a life is? I imagine this log of my existence written out as the epitaph on my gravestone. I watch as each word is chiselled into the black marble. Every detail of every inconsequential encounter painstakingly eternalised in stone. The edifice stretches for thousands, millions, of feet up into the sky, beyond the clouds. Looking up at this towering megalith inscribed with the trivialities of my existence gives me the sensation that I am standing on the edge of a very high building. Like an inverted form of vertigo. I have a recurring dream, a nightmare: these monolithic tombstones are being erected for everyone. It is an endless, impossible task. For every tombstone erected, there must be someone to inscribe the epitaph. They, in turn, must have their epitaph inscribed, and so on, ad infinitum. Like a nightmarish Escher. Like The Community, they form a self-referential world. Screens and tombstones endlessly reflect and echo one another. Until I see the world shudder and collapse under the weight of these crushing black monuments to the banal. It was the dreams that finally got me excommunicated by The Community. Our dreams, of course, are as open to scrutiny as our waking existence. They are subjected to the same Likes, Shares and Comments as our choice of toilet paper brand, our hairstyles, our lovers. The dreams made The Community uneasy. It started with a few Unlikes here and there, built momentum until it reached critical mass. Then the Unliking went viral. “Amy, you’ve repeatedly ignored or rejected Friend Requests from The Community. You have not been uploading your 10 minute Updates. You have failed to fulfil your daily quota of Likes, Shares and Comments. None of these are Offline-able actions on their own, as you know. But,” he frowns, “The Community


theurgy is disappointed.” He sits back, forms his fingers into a steeple under his chin. “What makes The Community Happy is Active Users. An Inactive User is an Unfunctioning User and an Unfunctioning User is Unhappy. The Community Unlikes Unfunctioning Users.” He tilts his head sideways. “Amy,” he locks his gaze onto mine, “The Community has Unliked you.” He looks down. Jabs the screen. “You know the protocol. It will go into voting.” My profile appears on the screen. Status: in Should Amy be Re-assimilated or Offlined? Vote Now ☺ A poll chart flashes onto the screen. The bars begin to creep up: green for Reassimilation, blue for Offline. I stare at the blue bar, willing it upwards. The bars move evenly at first. There are those who are opposed to Offlining; they think it’s inhumane and they are allowed their opinion, of course. The Community is a Democracy and all users are entitled to their opinion. Let the dissenters dissent. Mass opinion is what drives The Community. The majority is always right. The majority will always have its way. What’s popular is what’s good. What’s good is what’s popular. Popularity is good for The Community. What’s popular is Active Users, Liking, Sharing, Updating. Conforming. It’s a self-regulating system – if you don’t play the game, you’re put into excommunication for The Community to vote. I stare at the screen, willing the blue bar higher. Death by Democracy. Fine by me, as long as I do not have to Like or Share the experience of my demise. At least my oblivion can be my own. The alternative? Being sucked back into the green swirl of data. Text flashes on the screen: 5 seconds left to vote. Re-assimilation is registering 47%. Offline: 53%. I hold my breath. Voting closes. I concentrate every fibre of being on blue, on freedom. Final vote. Re-assimilation: 52%, Offline: 48%.☺ Blackness descends on my vision, like a blind pulled down by the inevitable force of gravity. I am looking back up at the dizzying, infinite black marble tombstone. He lets air out through his nose, part laugh, part snort. “Congratulations.” He settles himself back on the sofa. “The Community hasn’t given up on you Amy.” He picks his teeth. Runs his tongue over them. “You’ve been given another chance.” He smiles. “Your Re-assimilation starts now.”


theurgy My name is Amy. Friends: 133,491 Interests: Shopping, Liking and Sharing with Friends. Relationship status: I ♼ The Community â˜ş I Like you. Please, Friend me?



Why Don’t You Ring? Jessica Patient might kill myself if I have to listen to that bloody engaged tone one more Ifingers time,” Norman said as he slammed the phone receiver back into the cradle. His were sore from spinning the rotary dial all morning. Just looking at the beige-coloured phone made him want to retch. Normally, staring out of the window and watching fluffy cartoon-like clouds in the Photoshopped-perfect blue sky would calm him. But today, as he peered through the gap between the blind’s slates, the sky was a terrifying shade of scorched red and burnt yellow. His heart thumped against his chest. It felt like they were marooned inside a volcano and not in their idyllic cul-de-sac. “Norman, not in front of Stanley,” his wife Martha said. “Is this going to be like the time Dad promised to take us to Disney and then we didn’t go?” Stanley asked. The wooden floor amplified the constant tapping of Stanley’s trainers. Norman took a deep breath and turned around. Both Martha and Stanley were perched on the edge of their faded floral sofa. The seams were split open like fault lines, letting the sofa’s inners burst out. Tufts of fluff had attached themselves to Martha’s dress. He wanted her to get up and do a twirl but those days were redundant. Martha wrapped her arms around Stanley and kissed the top of his head. Three bulging suitcases marooned in the middle of the bare living room started to tremble. The whole floor rocked. The suitcases fell like dominoes. Martha cried out and pulled Stanley closer to her body. The house quivered. Norman clung to the wall. A crack sprinted towards him, and disappeared under his palm. Another canyon-sized crack stormed across the living room wall and through the pristine patches of cream wallpaper, where family pictures used to hang but now daylight trickled into the living room. Dust from the ceiling snowed down on them, speckling the whole family. The phone tumbled from the windowsill. Norman caught it and held it close to his chest. He wanted the phone to have smashed at his feet and at least he would have escaped the dreaded engaged tone but he couldn’t face getting the blame, again. Stanley glared at Norman as if he was to blame for the tremors and thunder. “Just try again,” Martha said, teary-eyed. She clung to Stanley. “The taxi will whisk us away.” Norman peered through the blinds, and watched his balding neighbour, Ray, drag his mattress across his parched lawn and slid it onto the bed frame. The rest of


theurgy the bedroom furniture were arranged as if it were still in the bedroom – the bedside table was next to the bed with a lamp and a spread out paperback perched on the top. Ray didn’t seem bothered by the rumblings of thunder as he sat down on the bed, took off his off-white vest and took a sip from his hipflask. “Maybe I should make us a cup of tea.” Norman said. “Or something stronger?” He really needed a swig from the bottle of whisky, located behind the pipe work in the under-the-sink cupboard. “I’m not going to have a cup of tea and hope the end of the world blows over,” Martha said, rolling her eyes. She dug deep into her dress pockets, came back with nothing and folded her arms. Norman wasn’t going to tell her that the cigarettes went out with the morning’s rubbish. “Dad, can you just dial for a taxi?” Stanley said, now drumming his fingers on the arm of the sofa. He reluctantly started to drag his fingers around the phone’s dial. While he listened to the engaged tone, he watched as his neighbour picked up a fallen lampshade from the lawn. A young couple were inspecting the record collection. “Norman, stop curtain twitching.” “Looks like Ray had the same idea as us and is having a yard sale. It looks like he has reeled in a young couple.” “Well, he has left it too late to buy tickets. He refused to believe Maryann and forced her to leave her beautiful home. There are no rewards for last minute believers.” “Martha, you can’t say that. We used to play scrabble and have barbeques with them. We can’t leave Ray behind.” “I am not sharing my taxi. The Leader will not allow Ray into the bunker.” “The Leader doesn’t want to share Maryann.” “I know for certain that those rumours are false,” Martha said, as she ran her fingers through her hair. “The Leader,” she paused, stared off into the distance and smiled. Another tremor started to rumble. Outside roof slates rained down, cracking as they hit the shrivelled soil. Car alarms wailed. The young couple were clinging to the headboard of the bed. Ray was standing on his porch, hugging his hipflask. The house violently shook, making the corner of the ceiling smashed onto the floor. The leg of their antique oak wardrobe poked out of the ceiling. Norman tripped on the telephone cord as he rushed over to his family. He fell onto his knees. “Praying can wait. The mini bus has obviously been delayed. We need that taxi. Why don’t you ring?” Norman winced as he steadied himself. Martha sighed at the sight of the holes in his trousers. He used his spit to rub away the blood but it only smeared across his knee and looked worse. Norman loosened his tie. Martha frowned. He quickly


theurgy pulled up his tie. He felt like he was being choked but at least it made Martha smile. Stanley untangled himself from Martha’s claw-like grip, barged past, nearly knocked Norman over. He sat in the corner of the living room with his knees pulled up to his chest and started chanting. Thunder claps were replaced by the tinny sound of Good Vibrations. Norman tapped along to the beat as he dragged his finger around the rotary dial. “What’s that noise?” “Well,” Norman said, putting down the receiver. He didn’t notice a man’s voice on the other end of the line. “Ray has his record player outside and the young couple are dancing.” Martha rolled her eyes. “Please shut the curtains,” she said, rubbing her temples. “I want to be able to see the bus.” “Norman, those clouds are pushing me into a panic attack,” she said, gripping her chest. The clouds were edging closer, devouring the blue sky. He nearly yanked the curtains off the pole. He left a small gap and watched the couple dance around Ray’s bed. “They are actually loading Ray’s record collection into the car. Ray did say that the only time he could sell his collection would be if it was the end of the world. Shame those kids aren’t going to get a chance to listen to them,” he said. His breath steamed up the window. “You’re upsetting Stanley. Neither he nor I care about non-believers. I need to get to the bunker. The Leader is expecting me. I’m not going to let him down,” she said as she stumbled from the sofa and shook Norman’s shoulders. He grabbed her by the waist. He wanted to dance with her, make her smile, make her want to apply lipstick for his benefit. He wanted her to forget the Leader. He pulled her closer as another tremor shook the house. She wiggled out of his grip and stomped back to the sofa. “You didn’t hand over the tickets for the bunker, did you?” “Why?” she said, picking at the seam of her cardigan sleeve. “Because I don’t trust the Leader.” “You’re only saying that because he questioned your commitment.” “He said that because the cheque bounced.” “There are things that I had to do to earn back his respect because of that incident. I can’t mention them in front of Stanley. You embarrassed the whole family.” “Is that the reason for the lacy underwear on the washing line? My mates laughed at the way your bra blew in the wind as if it was a flag,” Stanley said, standing up and stretching. Martha’s cheeks blossomed into a rosy tint as she glared at Stanley.


theurgy Norman was only allowed to see her in her off-white bra and mis-matched knickers. The ground rumbled. The walls of the house swayed. Rubble rolled down the stairs and avalanched into the living room. Norman reached out to hug Martha but she pulled away. Outside, an electricity pole snapped and crashed to the ground. The sparks looked like a cheap backyard firework display. A huge crack opened up along the road. Cars were wedged and the pavement was sucked under. A tree balanced on the verge, rocking over the canyon. The seams of their little neighbourhood were fraying. Ray leaped onto his rusty mountain bike and cycled down the road, leaving behind his bedroom furniture on the lawn. Golf-ball sized hail stones bounced on the mattress and collected in the seat of Ray’s deckchair. “The Leader will save us,” Martha said, straightening out a crease in her dress. She folded her arms around her chest. Norman picked up the phone and pretended to dial.



Contributors Our Unlikely Heroes Nathaniel K. Miller is a writer living in the Philadelphia area. His stories typically center around themes of iterative identity and speculative cosmology. His work appears in Mad Scientist Journal, and is forthcoming at Apocrypha and Abstractions. He is also co-editor (with David Gill) of the new SF magazine Pravic. Ari Caiach-Taylor is a vaguely human-shaped student living in various residences around Wales, some of which are pronounceable by English people. Preferences in both reading and writing are predominately sci-fi and fantasy and, when the wind changes, poetry. Areas of particular interest include the body as uncanny and the examination of non-human characters. When not weeping into a word processor they can usually be found playing video games or taking long walks in the woods, when woods are available, although beach is an acceptable substitute. Stephen Loveless was the first winner of the Daphne du Maurier literary prize and the Radio Netherlands worldwide Audiobook prize 2008. He wrote the script for the film Rose (dir: Kemal Yildirim) that won the Van Gogh award at the Amsterdam Film Festival 2012. He formed Out of the Box with actress Genevieve Cleghorn in 2010 and has written and directed their stage drama Asena about sex trafficking that is now touring. ‘Old Thimble’s Bank’ was a dreamy hope when hard up and hoping for their representative’s knock on the door. Stephen’s novella Hibakusha is published on Kindle. Tam Blaxter is trying to spend most of his life with words. The coasts and distant outlines of old lands are revealed between sealed pages of manuscript, which, skipping past poetry, describes the outlines of sociophilology, since that’s his subject. He suspects he won’t manage to maintain this path forever; for now, he’s ensconced at Oxford, working to avoid the darkly rumored job market. Barrie Darke lives in the North-East of England. He has a track record as a scriptwriter, but thinks prose is the main thing. He has recently been published in the UK by Byker Books, New Writing North, Sentinel Literary Quarterly, and The Delinquent; in Australia by Otoliths; and in the US by Menda City Review, Nossa Morte, Demon Minds, Infinite Windows, Underground Voices, Big Pulp, Pseudopod, Inwood Indiana, Bastards and Whores, Onomatopoeia, Orion Headless, Xenith, All Due Respect, Fiction365, Scissors and Spackle, Fear and Trembling, Drunk Monkeys, The April Reader, Big Stupid Review, Dark Moon Anthology and Wicked Industries.


theurgy As long as Megan O’Reilly Hodges is in the agrarian, water-cut Northwest USA, she is home. It’s the place that holds the majority of her inspiration: childhood memories of divorce and vintage dresses, gardens and friendly alleys, blisters and fun-runs, all of which contribute to her personal brand of femininity. Her writing bursts initially from pain, personal or someone’s that she has felt with them, particularly issues of female-folk. She concerns herself with the infinite definitions of ‘feminine.’ Meg writes to get herself and her characters sweet resolve in the discovery of an identity, or the casting off of a tired one. Paul T. Robinson lives in the haunted Midwest of America, where Halloween is still taken seriously. It is his favorite holiday. When he was a child, his grandfather would put on a horrifying plastic Halloween mask and chase him and his sister around the house. It terrified them, but they always asked him to do it again. Ed Higgins’s poems and short fiction have appeared in Twisted Tongue Magazine, Danse Macabre, Planet Magazine, Word Riot, Tattoo Highway, and Blue Print Review, among others. He and his wife live on a small farm in Yamhill, Oregon, USA where they raise a menagerie of animals including two whippets, two manx barn cats (who don’t care for the whippets), an emu named To and Fro, and a pair of alpacas named Machu and Picchu. He teaches creative writing and literature at George Fox University, south of Portland, Oregon. Joel Forster is part scientist, part writer, with a special place in his heart for all things speculative fiction. He lives in either rural Berkshire, or in the concrete jungle of Coventry, depending on the time of year. He writes short stories, and webcomics, but mostly writes tweets. A native of Western Pennsylvania currently living in Chicago, Illinois USA, Dana Jerman has been published multiple times in print in the US and abroad. As well as free verse and flash fiction, she enjoys writing in the smaller traditional Japanese forms of haiku and tanka. Dana has self published a chapbook Briefly, The Heart which can be found at Her literature can also be found at blastfortune. Kyle Hemmings is the author of several chapbooks of poetry and prose: Avenue C, Cat People, and Anime Junkie (Scars Publications). His latest e-books are You Never Die in Wholes from Good Story Press and The Truth about Onions from Good Samaritan. He lives and writes in New Jersey. Shane VanOosterhout lives on ten acres in Michigan, where he gardens like a mad man. He has a BFA in design with a minor in Creative Writing from the University of Michigan. His self-published novella, The Society for the Discovery of Anti Earth Life Forms is available from Amazon and BookTango. Shane is currently


theurgy polishing his first novel, Crinklefoot, a comedic adventure set in the Victorian Age. His website is He also blogs about gardening and nature as The Passionate Gardener at Aida Zilelian is a New York City writer whose stories have appeared in journals such as Pen Pusher, Slushpile, and Waccamaw. These and others can be found at She recently launched a new reading series in Astoria, New York, Boundless Tales Reading series, that she will be hosting in the fall and upcoming months. Aida is on the editorial board of Newtown Literary, a new literary magazine that strives to represent new and emerging writers from Queens, NY. Last year her novel The Hollowing Moon was one of the four semi-finalists of the Anderbo Novel Contest. She is writing a sequel. Carly Holmes is a 36 year old Creative Writing PhD student, living in Pembrokeshire. She’s been writing since she was a child (her parents still quote from her first ever poem, written at the age of 7, when they want to embarass her in front of friends). She is attempting to write a novel for her PhD but keeps getting sidetracked by ideas for short stories, by reading great novels, and by afternoon naps. She is delighted to be included in the first issue of Theurgy Magazine. David Gill remains mysterious and indistinct. Forrest Aguirre’s fiction has appeared in over fifty venues, including Asimovs, Exquisite Corpse, Gargoyle, and Apex. He has received the World Fantasy Award for editing the Leviathan 3 anthology. More of Forrest’s work can be found at His blog, ‘Forrest for the Trees’, is located at Forrest’s real, non-virtual home is in Madison, Wisconsin. John Grey is an Australian born poet, playwright, musician, and Providence, Rhode Island resident since late seventies. He works as financial systems analyst. He has been published in numerous magazines including Weird Tales, Christian Science Monitor, Agni, Poet Lore and the Journal Of The American Medical Association, as well as the horror anthology What Fears Become with work upcoming in Poem, Prism International and the Potomac Review. He has had plays produced in Los Angeles and off-off Broadway in New York. He is the winner of Rhysling Award for short genre poetry in 1999. Ken Poyner has been appearing in the alternative and small presses for 40 years or so, and is now out and about on the web. His real avocation, however, is being awful eye-candy at his wife’s powerlifting meets, from which she holds multiple world records. Menacing Hedge, Corium, Eclectica, Asimov’s, Frostwriting, Gutter Eloquence and a host of others have been tongue tied with his work of late.


theurgy Lucy E. Cooper grew up on a diet of science fiction. Equally fascinated and disturbed by the ways technology is changing our lives, she believes it’s only a matter of time before we are inevitably hardwired up to the internet. In the meantime, she intends to have a damn good time enjoying life Offline, with good friends, red wine and old fashioned books. A former journalist, she lives in Cornwall where she is completing her master’s in Professional Writing. Jessica Patient wrote stories when she was younger in refillable notepads with illustrations of ponies with thin bodies and fat legs. Her short stories have appeared at 3:AM Magazine, Metazen and The View from Here Magazine. She writes a blog, Jessica lives in Bedfordshire, England.




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